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Elder/Dependent Adult Financial Abuse

What is “Financial Abuse”?

It’s using the elder’s money or assets contrary to the elder’s wishes, needs, or best interests – or for the abuser’s personal gain.  

For example:

Taking money or other items from the elder’s home or bank accounts

Selling or transferring the elder’s property against their wishes or best interests

Failing to provide agreed upon services to the elder, such as case giving, home or vehicle repair, or financial management

Using the elder’s credit cards for unauthorized purchases

Using the elder’s name or good credit to open new credit accounts

Misusing the elder’s Power of Attorney (POA)

Refusing to return borrowed money or property as agreed upon, or when requested by the elder or their agent

Creating or changing living trusts for the benefit of the abuser

Changing the elder’s will, trusts, or inheritance for the abuser’s benefit

Undue Influence

When a person in a position of trust takes advantage of a vulnerable elder to gain control of their money, property, or their life – either directly, or through a POA, a trust, marriage, adoption, or inheritance.

How is Undue Influence Accomplished by Abusers?

By isolating the elder from contact with other family members, friends, and society 

By controlling the elder’s mail, phone calls, visitors, and outings 

By falsely promising the elder to take care of them for the rest of their life 

By falsely worrying the elder with the fear that they will lose their house and be placed in a nursing home 

By lying to the elder that no one else cares about them except the abuser 

By manipulating or withholding the elder’s food or medication so they become weak and compliant 

By threatening the elder with harm, neglect, or abandonment if they don’t agree to do what they are told

Who Might Be An Abuser? 

Family members 

Caretakers – paid or volunteer 

Strangers – met in public, or over the phone, or those who come to the door 

Professionals hired by the elder – accountants, bankers, lawyers, doctors 

Is there a new person involved in the elder’s life, with no logical reason for being there, such as a new boyfriend or girlfriend much younger than the elder? 

Has the elder recently changed their doctor, lawyer, accountant, or other professional?

Warning Signs of Financial Exploitation

Financial Activity

Activity inconsistent with elder’s ability, such as ATM use by a physically impaired person     Numerous new withdrawals, usually in round numbers ($50, $100, $1,000, $5,000, etc.) 

Increased activity on credit cards 

Withdrawals made from savings or CD’s in spite of penalty assessments 

Change in account beneficiaries 

New authorized signers on accounts 

Elder is confused about recent financial arrangements 

Change in property title, quitclaim deed, or new or refinanced mortgage

Inheritance & Wills

Recent change in Power or Attorney or Durable Power of Attorney

Recent change in Will or Trust, when elder is clearly incapable

Recent change in Will or Trust to favor a new or much younger “friend”

Caregiver Warning Signs

Is the elder now reluctant to discuss matters that were once routine? 

Does the elder seem apprehensive of the outside world – more tired or depressed? 

Does the caregiver say the elder is less willing or able to accept visits or calls? 

Does the caregiver seem overly concerned about the elder’s finances? 

Does the caregiver often speak for the elder, even when the elder is present? 

Does the caregiver have no means of support other than the elder’s income?

Making the Elder Less of a Target

Assessing Elder Lifestyle Risks

Does the elder live alone? 

Does the elder still drive?  If so, they may be prone to crashes, or to being victimized by driving-related scams (see Common Elder Abuse Scams). 

Does the elder spend a lot of time on foot, in public places?  If so, they may be targeted by exploiters who search for elderly victims at banks, stores, parks, malls, libraries, etc. 

Does the elder have information about housing options, care choices, and support groups? 

Have the elder’s outside activities decreased over the past few years? 

Does the elder have family members in the area?  Is there weekly contact? 

Is the elder overly friendly and helpful – even to total strangers? 

Who regularly checks the status of the elder’s bank accounts, charge or credit accounts, or investments? 

Where and from whom is the elder getting financial and medical advice? 

Who oversees the elder’s Power of Attorney? 

Does the elder seek advice of fortunetellers, psychic advisors, or spiritual healers? 

Does the elder know when and how to call the police for emergencies – and for non-emergencies, such as suspicious persons?

Be Careful With Caregivers

Caregiver hired from reputable agency? 

Caregiver references checked? 

Criminal background check done? 

Elder’s checks, credit cards, etc. locked up? 

Written service agreement, signed by the caregiver & elder, specifying duties and pay? 

Log of workers, hours, and salary payments? 

Weekly review of caregiver expenses? 

Common Elder Abuse Scams

“You’re a Sweepstakes Winner!”  Elder gets a call or letter saying they have just won a big “prize”, but must first send money for “taxes” or fees before getting their prize. 

Fortune-Teller or Psychic Healer:  Elder’s money or jewelry is “cursed” and must be given to a fortuneteller to remove the “curse”. 

“I’ll fix your roof or driveway – Cheap!”  Elder pays cash to a door-to-door solicitor who just happens to have some left-over materials from a previous job, then gets shoddy work – or no work at all. 

“Let’s share this found cash”.  Stranger approaches elder with offer to share “found” cash.  Elder is told to get “good faith money” of their own, which is then stolen by deception. 

Victim receives a telephone call requesting verification of either credit card number or social security number.  This information is then used by for fraudulent purposes. 

"You hit my car in the parking lot!”  Crooks smear elder’s parked care with tar while elder is shopping.  When elder returns and drives off, crooks follow, and then accuse elder of Hit & Run, pointing to tar as evidence of “damage”.  Crooks demand cash to keep from calling Police. 

“Latin-Lotto” Scam”  “Illegal alien” offers the elder a share of their “winning” lottery ticket – if the elder is willing to put up their own cash to help redeem it.

Gold Bar or Diamond Scam”  “Foreigner” offers to sell elder a fake gold bar or diamond at a “big discount”, to raise cash for a “family emergency” back home.

Utility Inspector Scam:  Phony “Utility Inspector” comes to elder’s home, distracts elder while the house is burglarized.

Bank Examiner Scam:  Elder gets phone call asking the elder to give a cash deposit to a “bank detective” trying to catch a crooked teller at the elder’s bank.

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It is the mission of the San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office to represent the interests of the people in the criminal justice system, as mandated by California State law. The San Bernardino County District Attorney's Office serves the residents of San Bernardino County by: seeking the truth, protecting the innocent; holding the guilty accountable; preserving the dignity of victims and their families; and, ensuring that justice is done while always maintaining the highest ethical standards.

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