Dubbed The Crime of the 21st Century, financial exploitation is the most common form of elder abuse and costs older Americans an estimate $2.9 billion in lost money and assets each year, though many experts agree that figure is probably much higher. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, states such as North Carolina are bound by state and federal reporting requirements. Unfortunately, however, because the crime is one that truly flies under the radar, most cases of financial exploitation go undiscovered and unreported. Family members can protect their elderly loved ones from financial abuse by recognizing the signs of the crime and knowing how to report it.
A variety of observations may signal that a nursing home resident is the victim of financial exploitation. The Consumer Financial Bureau details several “red flags.” The resident him- or herself may voice his or her concerns regarding a missing checkbook, important documents or credit cards. He or she may accuse a person of stealing or misusing funds, or become agitated before or after a certain family member or orderly visits. The resident may become secretive and begin to hide possessions.
If a resident does not demonstrate peculiar behavior, that does not mean that financial exploitation is not an issue. Loved ones should keep their eyes out for vanishing possessions, blank bank deposit slips or withdrawal forms and missing medications. They should also question the lack of basic necessities such as toothpaste, underwear and socks.
Billing issues are also a sign of financial elder abuse. Unpaid nursing home bills, unpaid pharmacy bills, abrupt or repeated changes in bill amounts and bills paid in cash should all be cause for concern. A loved one should also be wary if a family member decides to move the resident to a new home after another loved one raises concern regarding the misuse of funds.
Finally, a shift in family dynamics may also be cause for concern. If a family member suddenly begins to “chaperone” an elderly individual, or if an outside individual shows increased affection for a resident, financial abuse may already be an issue. If a person overhears or observes another pressuring or threatening an elderly individual to sign a document, that person should look into the matter more closely.
The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care details what one should do if he or she suspects financial exploitation. First and foremost, he or she should discuss the concerns with a social worker, facility administrator or another staff member. He or she should then contact the state licensing agency and Adult Protective Services. Finally, as financial exploitation is a crime, the suspicious family member should contact local law enforcement.