Most people associate the term “elder abuse” with physical, verbal or emotional abuse. However, financial exploitation is an all-too-common form of elder abuse. According to the National Council on Aging, “While likely underreported, elder financial abuse and fraud costs older Americans $36.5 billion per year.” Approximately 11% of people over 60 have reported that they were financially exploited within the past year.

Seniors who have cognitive issues like dementia are among the easiest victims, However, many seniors’ lack of tech savviness can also leave them open to exploitation. Widows and widowers whose spouses were the ones who handled the family finances are especially vulnerable. Most often, the perpetrators are those who are trusted by the senior, like family members and caregivers – including nursing home employees.

Financial exploitation can take may forms, large and small. These include:

  • Stealing cash or other valuables
  • Taking money from their checking account by stealing checks or ATM cards, getting them to sign a check or forging their signature
  • Coercing or tricking them into signing a document like a contract, will or title transfer

If your loved one is in a nursing home, assisted living residence or other care facility, it’s essential to be on the lookout for signs of financial exploitation. Keep an eye out for unexplained withdrawals or debits from their bank accounts. Make sure that none of their possessions go missing. If they have a checkbook, ATM card or credit cards, be sure that they’re locked up and that your loved one doesn’t allow anyone else to use them.

If they suddenly make changes to their estate plan, start giving away possessions or otherwise do things that are unexplained or troubling with their assets, it’s essential to find out what’s going on. They may not realize they’re being exploited, or they may be afraid to tell anyone. They may be threatened with – or suffering from – physical abuse as well.

If you believe that someone in your loved one’s nursing home or other care facility is stealing from them, whether it’s a staff member or another resident, notify the management immediately. If the problem isn’t resolved and your loved one has lost money or possessions because of the actions or negligence of the nursing home, talk with an attorney to determine what your options are.