Financial Abuse: An Epidemic

by Betsey Crimmins, Greater Boston Legal Services
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Elder financial abuse has become the “crime of the 21st century” as the growing elder population is targeted by scammers, con artists, and, regrettably, their own relatives and caregivers. Often cases of financial abuse go unreported because of the fear, shame, or embarrassment that victims feel after they realize what has happened to them.

Older Americans lose $2.9 billion a year to financial abuse and exploitation, according to a recent study by the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse.  In most cases of financial exploitation, it is very difficult to get money or property back after it has been taken from you.  Such abuse can be financially and emotionally devastating, especially when an older person is victimized by someone they know and trust. 

What To Watch Out For

It is very important to understand what financial abuse is and how to protect yourself from becoming a victim.  It can sometimes be difficult to recognize financial abuse, but the more information you have and the better prepared you are, the less likely you will be taken advantage of.  Some common forms of abuse include:

Abuse of a Power of Attorney – These can be valuable legal documents, but it is very important that you hand over legal power over your finances only to someone whom you trust will not take advantage of you.

Abuse of a Joint Bank Account – If you add another person’s name to your bank account, it is crucially important to realize that you have given that person 100% legal ownership of all of the money in the account and they can withdraw that money at any time.

Transferring Your Home – Once you sign over the deed to your property to someone else, you no longer own your property.  If you are thinking about doing this, it is very important that you consult your own attorney to explore all of the pros and cons of such an important transaction.

Scams - There are many different scams which are often targeted at older adults.  The most common current scams are –

*  Advanced Fee Lottery or Prize Scams – scammers contact you by phone or e-mail and inform you that you won a lottery or sweepstakes, or are due an inheritance.  They then ask you to send money to pay for fees, taxes, etc.

*  Grandparent scam -  this one starts with a phone call or e-mail from someone claiming to be a grandchild who needs money to help them out of a crisis situation.  They often ask that you wire money.

*  Computer and internet scams – e-mails which look very official are sent from scammers claiming to be from the IRS, Medicare, a cable or utility company, etc.  They often ask you to verify bank information, provide a credit card number, or Social Security number.

Tips To Protect Yourself From Scams

            *  Never wire or send money to someone you do not know!

*  Be aware of  unsolicited prizes or gift offers, especially if you have not entered a sweepstakes or lottery.  Never pay any money to collect promised winnings

*  Do not provide any personal information such as Social Security number, bank account information, or credit card information to someone that you do not know and that you did not contact yourself

*  Most reputable companies do not ask you to wire money or use money paks, or ITunes gift cards.  Investigate any claims made before you wire money or purchase a money pack.


Remember – if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

For additional information about all forms of elder abuse:


About the Author: The Elder Abuse Prevention Project of Greater Boston Legal Services was created to focus on the growing and serious problem of elder abuse.  The primary goal of the project is to focus on prevention – in the case of financial exploitation that means informing people beforehand about how to protect themselves before they become victims.