What is Financial Elder Abuse?
Financial abuse is the theft or embezzlement of money or any other
property from an elder. It can be as simple as taking money from a
wallet and as complex as manipulating a victim into turning over
property to an abuser. This form of abuse can be devastating
because an elder victim’s life savings can disappear in the blink of
an eye, leaving them unable to provide for their needs and afraid
of what an uncertain tomorrow will bring.
Civil law defines elder financial abuse as a form of elder abuse
when a person or entity takes, secretes, appropriates or retains (or
assists in the process) real or personal property of an elder to a
wrongful use or with the intent to defraud, or both. (Welfare and
Institutions Code, Section 15610.30) Elder financial abuse can also
be a criminal offense if "theft or embezzlement" (Penal Code
Sections 368(d)(e), & 484- 487), "forgery" (Penal Code 470), or
filing "forged documents" (Penal Code 115) are involved.
See legal definition of financial elder abuse,Financial Abuse
Recognizing the Warning Signs
The existence of any one or more of these indicators does not
necessarily mean that abuse has occurred. Instead, treat them as
signs that diligent attention or investigation is needed.
Behavioral warning signs:
•Confused or extremely forgetful
•Helpless or angry
•Hesitant to talk freely
Isolation warning signs:
•Elder is isolated or lonely with no visitors or relatives. Family
members or caregiver isolate the individual, restricting the
person’s contact with others.
•Elder is not given the opportunity to speak freely or have
contact with others without the caregiver being present.
Other warning signs may include:
•Unusual bank account activity, such as withdrawals from
automatic teller machines when the individual cannot get to
•Signatures on checks and other documents that do not
resemble the elder’s signature.
•Checks or other documents signed when the elder cannot
write or understand what he or she is signing.
•Lack of personal amenities – appropriate clothing and
•Numerous unpaid bills when someone else has been
designated to pay the bills.
•Change in spending patterns, such as buying items he or she
doesn’t need and can’t use.
•The appearance of a stranger who begins a new close
relationship and offers to manage the elder’s finances and
What are other types of financial abuse?
Beware of "living trust mills" and annuity salespersons!
Thousands of senior citizens and other members of the public have
been solicited by salespeople calling themselves "Senior Advisors"
or Medi-Cal Specialists" and have been invited to attend free
seminars. These seminars conducted by so-called experts promote
the purchase of various estate planning services, including legal
and tax counseling, the review of legal documents, and the
preparation of new wills, trusts, and other estate planning
documents including annuities.
Seniors are often sold trusts that they do not need or scared into
buying annuities as a way of protecting their home and other
assets from a future estate claims by Medi-Cal. Such investments
are often sold by inadequately trained personnel and are sold
without proper disclosure or without regard to the suitability of the
investment. Senior citizens have suffered financial losses and have
had their applications for long-term care Medi-Cal adversely
affected by purchasing products from "trust mills."
Medicare or Medi-Cal fraud: Some health care organizations,
durable medical equipment providers and health care professionals
commit this type of fraud against the Medicare or Medi-Cal
programs by over-charging for services or by billing for services,
drugs or supplies that were unnecessary or not performed at all.
It also involves receiving kickbacks for referrals. It is estimated that
Medi-Cal fraud accounts for 3 to 10 % of the overall Medi-Cal
Americans lose an estimated $40 billion each year due to the
fraudulent sales of goods and services over the telephone. AARP
has found that 56% of those called by telemarketers are aged 50
It can be extremely difficult to tell if a telemarketing call is legitimate.
This is especially true if you are being pressured to make an
instant decision; for example, to send money right away in order to
claim a prize that has been won. Scams can range from prize offers
to travel packages to phony charities. Be wary of telemarketing
sales pitches that sound too good to be true...they probable are!
Home improvement scams:
Home improvement scams are often committed by groups of
individuals who go door-to door in an effort to sell “home
improvement” services. Often, they come into a neighborhood and
offer to repair a driveway or re-shingle a roof which they claim is in
immediate need of repair. They promise to do the work for a very
low fee if the individual agrees to have the work done immediately.
When the victim agrees, he or she discovers the fee is much higher
after the work has been completed or that the work was done using
inferior materials. Quite often the scam artist will do the work for a
low fee for one resident in a neighborhood to create a referral in
the area to draw in other victims.
It is important to remember that often these individuals can do more
than overcharge or perform shoddy work. Sometimes one
individual will work outside and another may go into the house for a
drink of water and then steal valuables. Far too often the victim
does not know the items are missing until the criminals are gone.
More than 80% of Americans aged 50 and older are homeowners.
Elders are often the target of unscrupulous lenders who pressure
them into high-interest loans they may not be able to repay. Older
homeowners are often persuaded to borrow money through home
equity loans for home repairs, debt consolidation or to pay health
care costs. These loans are sold as a “miracle financial cure,” and
homeowners are devastated to find out they cannot afford to pay
off the loans and, as a result, may lose their home. Often these
loans are packed with excessive fees, costly credit insurance, pre-
payment penalties and balloon payments.
Estate planning hazards:
“Estate planning” is the ordering of one’s affairs so that personal
and financial matters will be taken care of upon death or
incapacitation. Estate planning devices may include wills, trusts,
powers of attorney, advance health care directives and joint
People can take advantage of the power given to them in estate
planning devices. For example, a “Power of Attorney” works well if it
contains clear directions that reflect your wishes and vests your
care and well-being with a reliable individual. On the other hand, a
“Power of Attorney” can lead to elder abuse if it grants power to a
person with no interest in protecting you. Powers of Attorney can
be used to take money from your bank, transfer property and even
have you involuntarily placed in a long-term care facility.
"Undue influence" is present when there is a confidential
relationship between you and another person and the person gains
unfair advantage over you. Undue influence is present when
someone isolates you from family and friends and then convinces
you to execute estate planning documents in that person’s favor.
If you are a concerned relative or friend of an elderly person that
you believe is suffering from elder abuse in the greater
Sacramento area, we'd like to hear from you