How To Protect Aging Parents From Elder Financial Abuse

Elder financial abuse can threaten aging parents' retirement security

Woman combing hair of elderly mother

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As your parents age, you may wonder how you will manage their care. While maintaining their good health is vital, it's just as crucial to think about their financial health. That includes protecting them against elder financial abuse.

Elder financial abuse involves the misuse of a senior's financial resources by a third party, such as a caregiver, neighbor, friend, or family member. The New York State Office of Children and Family Services reports that over five million seniors in the U.S. are financially exploited each year.

More than $36.5 billion dollars are lost each year in cases of elder financial abuse and many cases go unreported. If you have older parents, here's how to spot elder financial abuse and protect them against it.

What Does Elder Financial Abuse Look Like?

Elder financial abuse can be subtle. It may require taking a close look to find any misuse of your parents' assets. Different types of scams can be carried out by people in other areas of their lives. For instance, some of the most common elder financial abuse scams involving strangers include:

  • Lottery or contest scams
  • Home repair and yard work scams
  • Telemarketing scams
  • Charitable donation scams
  • Door-to-door sales scams
  • Reverse mortgage or predatory lending scams
  • Medicare fraud
  • Investment scams
  • Annuity fraud
  • Identity theft
  • Phishing scams

In these instances, the scammer may look legitimate, which makes an aging senior think it's ok to hand over their money or access to it. In some cases, the scammer may use high-pressure tactics to achieve their goal.

When elder financial abuse involves someone that's known to the victim, it may take a different form. Caregivers, friends, or family members can misuse assets by:

  • Getting a power of attorney under false pretenses to gain access to your parents' accounts.
  • Setting up a joint account with your parents for the purpose of stealing money.
  • Using their ATM or debit card without their knowledge or cashing checks from their bank account.
  • Using their credit cards to make bogus purchases.
  • Billing too much for their services in the case of caregivers.
  • Saying they will withhold care or cause harm unless they're granted access to the older person's money.

These types of scams are more common than those that take place with strangers. The Wells Fargo survey showed that two-thirds of elder financial abuse is perpetrated by friends, family members, or other people the victim trusts.

What Makes Aging Parents Open to Financial Abuse?

There are certain factors that can make aging parents more open to being targets for elder financial abuse. Knowing what those are is one way to keep parents and their assets safe.

To start, many parents are not talking about money with their adult kids. One-third of older people in the U.S. do not discuss later-life or end-of-life plans with their children. These plans include things like a will and estate plan or power of attorney for money decisions.


Isolation and poor health can open the door to elder financial abuse.

It may be easier for strangers or caregivers to take advantage of aging parents if there are no friends or family members close by who can check in with them often. Health issues or mental deterioration can also cause problems. If an aging parent's mental capacity is in a decline due to dementia or a similar condition, it may be easier for a caregiver or a stranger to convince them to sign over assets or grant access to accounts without raising questions.

Protecting Parents Against Elder Financial Abuse

There are many things you can do to stop elder financial abuse before it begins.

In the best case, you and your parents should be looking over financial accounts together to check for any suspicious actions. If they don't feel right sharing their financial details with you, at least discuss whether bills are being paid on time and whether they have any financial concerns.

Next, make sure your parents have the right legal and financial safeguards in place, like a will and a power of attorney for financial decisions. The latter document should spell out who your parents would like to have access to their accounts and what choices they're comfortable having that person make if they can no longer manage their own money.


Protect your parents by having money talks with aging parents, and don't be afraid to bring up the subject.

Helping them to close unused accounts and streamline their finances can also help prevent elder financial abuse. The fewer accounts they have to manage, the easier it should be for them to keep track of where their money is going. If they are able and willing to use a mobile device to track their finances, setting up banking and credit card email or text alerts can also be helpful for checking their accounts often.

Help them to review their credit reports at least once a year to look for any mix-ups or accounts that may be fraudulent. Ask them whether they'd be OK with signing up for free monthly credit monitoring and giving you access to that account so you can help them keep an eye on their credit.

These steps can help you put up a stronger defense, but you should still be aware of what to watch out for. Some of the signs that can tip you off to elder financial abuse include:

  • Property that goes missing without a reason.
  • Notices for unpaid bills or accounts that your parents don't know about.
  • Unexplained withdrawals or purchases from bank accounts.
  • Missing bank or credit card statements.
  • Signatures on checks or other financial documents that don't match your parents' writing.

If you see any of these warning signals, you can contact the Administration on Aging for help. This federal agency can help you take the necessary steps to resolve elder financial abuse issues.

How to Report Elder Financial Abuse

If your parents do fall victim to elder financial abuse, there are a couple steps to take to report it.

First, make sure to gather as much information as possible. The time, date and location of the incident is important to have, as is who was involved and if anyone observed the event. Information about your parent's health conditions that could impair their memory or decisions.

Once the information is gathered, a report can be filed with your state's Adult Protective Services office. You can also contact your local district attorney, who can prosecute for financial abuse. Depending on the state you're in, there may be laws that allow those who have been financially abused to file a civil case to recover the money they lost, or elder financial abuse may be defined as a specific crime.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is elder abuse considered a crime?

Depending on the state you're in, elder financial abuse may be defined as a specific crime or there may be laws that allow those who have been financially abused to file a civil case to recover the money they lost.

What is the penalty for elder financial abuse?

Laws vary state-to-state. For example, a perpetrator in Michigan could serve anywhere from 93 days to 20 years or could be fined three times the amount of money stolen.

Key Takeaways

  • Elder financial abuse is when a senior's financial resources are misused by someone like a caregiver, neighbor, friend, or family member. It often comes in the form of fraud or scams.
  • Parents can be vulnerable to financial abuse when they are isolated or have an impairment that impacts their memory or decision making.
  • To protect your parents from financial abuse, go over their financial accounts and credit reports, put legal safeguards like power of attorney in place, and look for signs of suspicious behavior.
  • If y our parents are financially abused, report as much information as possible to your state's Adult Protective Services.
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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. New York State Office of Children and Family Services. "The New York State Cost of Financial Exploitation Study," Page 7.

  2. National Council on Aging. "Get the Facts on Elder Abuse."

  3. Wells Fargo Advisors. "2018 Wells Fargo Elder Needs Survey," Page 9.

  4. Wells Fargo Advisors. "2018 Wells Fargo Elder Needs Survey," Page 6.

  5. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "Reporting Elder Financial Abuse."

  6. Department of Justice. "Elder Abuse and Elder Financial Exploitation Statues."

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