Stay Alert to Help Elders Avoid Financial Abuse

by David D. Holland

Financial exploitation is one of the fastest growing forms of abuse of seniors (and adults with disabilities) in America. One in nine seniors reported being abused, neglected or exploited in the past twelve months. Perhaps due to fear or embarrassment, only 1 in 44 cases of elder abuse are ever reported. 90 percent of abusers are family members or other trusted persons – caretakers, friends, attorneys, bank employees, and even pastors!
Exploitation. Sadly, elders are targeted because perpetrators go where the money is, and people over age 50 control 70% of the nation’s wealth. Cognitive impairment can make some folks more vulnerable. Elders with predictable daily routines can become easy victims. Elders who struggle with financial management (complicated by advances in technology) can also be on the radar screen. “Helpers” can gain access to homes, assets, and may even exercise significant mental/emotional influence over persons in their care. Worst of all, some family members may feel entitled to take what they believe is “rightfully” theirs because they: 1. fear that the family member will get seriously ill, use up their savings, and disinherit them; 2. have a sense of resentment toward the victim; and/or 3. have negative feelings toward other potential beneficiaries.
Techniques. Watch out for these common techniques used by perpetrators:
• Use of ATM cards or stealing checks to withdraw monies from accounts.
• Use of a Power of Attorney as “a license to steal” from the victim.
• Threats of abandonment or harm to the victim.
• Refusal to obtain needed care for the victim in order to keep control of assets.
Pay Attention! Changes in behavior or unusual activities can help reveal financial abuse. One action isn’t proof, but look out for: visits from new “best friends;” suspicious phone calls; unpaid bills; eviction notices; disconnected utilities; missing bank/investment statements; unusual bank activity; and a change in the elder’s mood or personality, including loss of trust, depression, fear, shame, guilt, anger, self-doubt, remorse, or feelings of worthlessness.


Intervention. If you suspect exploitation, speak up! You can file a report with local law enforcement or a specialized government agency charged with such investigations. In Florida, for example, you can contact the Florida Department of Children and Families at 800-962-2873, or visit The National Adult Protective Services Association ( also has helpful information, like many of the statistics I shared with you in this column.



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David D. Holland, a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ practitioner, hosts a weekday radio show at 9AM on AM1380 Ormond Beach, AM1230 New Smyrna Beach and AM1490 Deland. He has also authored two books in his Confessions of a Financial Planner series. Holland offers investment advice through Holland Advisory Services, Inc., a registered investment adviser in Ormond Beach. He can be contacted at (386) 671-7526. Email your financial questions to