I know I’ve said this a million times before, but I honestly feel like educating ourselves is so important. The more you know, the more you can protect and advocate for yourself and your loved ones.

Today, June 15th, is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. This day was originally created back in 2006 by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization at the United Nations. It includes not only financial abuse, but also physical, emotional, psychological and sexual abuse.

It’s hard to say exactly how many cases of elder abuse there are each year, but what we do know is that most of them probably go unnoticed. It’s estimated that roughly 1 in 14 cases of financial abuse are reported each year. Because so many cases probably go unreported, it’s hard to say what the financial impact is. One study may say that older Americans lose $2.6 billion each year, whereas another study I saw estimated that the financial loss could be as high as $36.5 billion each year.  Whatever the amount, elder financial abuse is a huge problem; not just in the United States. but globally as well.

If you’re like me, and have elderly parents (sorry mom and dad) or grandparents that you care deeply about and want to look out for their best interests, it’s important to know the warning signs of financial abuse and what you can do to help.

Some signs of financial abuse include, but are not limited to;

  • Money missing from accounts
    • Have they made any large or unusual withdrawals that they can’t account for?
    • Are they taking money out of investment accounts or IRA’s that are atypical with their normal behavior?
  • Unusual use of credit/debit cards
    • Have they been making frequent cash advances off of a credit card?
    • Have they been making more frequent ATM withdrawals?
  • Unpaid bills or collections letters
    • Have they always paid their bills on time and now they are always late?
  • Missing possessions
    • Are treasured or expensive items suddenly missing?
    • If living with a caretaker, are there suddenly new and/or expensive items?
  • Sudden changes in mood or demeanor
    • Unusual sadness, nervousness, or anxiety are all potential signs of abuse
  • Checks written with “gift” in the memo line
  • Sudden inclusion of additional names to accounts, or authorized users on credit cards

This list of things is in no way all inclusive, nor are these the only warning signs.  In fact, many of these warning signs could also be completely normal and explainable.  An older person may suddenly realize that they should have a joint owner or authorized user in case something were to happen to them.  Regardless, it is better to be cautious and ask questions to find out the truth.

Another thing to keep in mind is that there is no typical abuser.  It could be a family member, “friend,” neighbor, caretaker, or a con-artist.  If a person doesn’t have family or friends that live nearby, it’s much easier for complete strangers to earn their trust and then take advantage of them.

So what should you do if you suspect someone is the victim of Elder Financial Abuse? First, don’t be afraid to get the proper authorities involved.  There are numerous agencies and associations  that can help.  The National Council on Aging also is a great resource if you are interested in learning more.