A lot of attention is given to physical elder abuse, emotional elder abuse, and elder sexual abuse, as it should be. However, there are other types of abuse to which elderly nursing home residents are exposed. One of the fastest growing threats is financial abuse. This is often coupled with other types of abuse, including psychological/emotional abuse and physical abuse. In fact, 5.2% of the elderly surveyed in the 2010 National Institute of Health survey reported being taken advantage of financially by a caregiver or nursing home staff member.
What Is Elder Financial Abuse?
So, what does elder financial abuse include? What falls under this heading? There are plenty of potential items, but the Centers for Disease Control defines elder financial abuse as, “the illegal, unauthorized, or improper use of an older individual’s resources by a caregiver or other person in a trusting relationship, for the benefit of someone other than the older individual. This includes, but is not limited to, depriving an older person of rightful access to, information about, or use of, personal benefits, resources, belongings, or assets. Examples include forgery, misuse or theft of money or possessions; use of coercion or deception to surrender finances or property; or improper use of guardianship or power of attorney.” As you can see, it’s far more than stealing a few dollars from a wallet or filching a credit card.
How Elder Financial Abuse Occurs in Nursing Homes
There are plenty of examples of elder financial abuse and how rampant it is in today’s nursing home environments. Petty theft is one of the most common – stealing money from a wallet or purse, for instance. Other examples include taking credit and debit cards from residents for personal use. However, there are other examples that are even more frightening. For instance, tricking a resident to sign over power of attorney happens with regularity, as does tricking residents into signing other contracts, sale papers and even changes to their wills. Other examples include overcharging for services or goods not rendered, charging for brand name medication but providing generic medicines, charging for medical or mobility devices needed but never delivered, and much more.
Watch for Signs of Elder Financial Abuse
It is important to know the signs of elder financial abuse to safeguard your loved one while he or she is a resident of a nursing home. Some of the most common signs of financial abuse include the following:
- Unexplained Withdrawals: Any withdrawal from savings, checking or retirement account should be explained. Unexplained withdrawals should be seen as red flags of financial abuse.
- Financial Document Changes: Any unanticipated changes to a loved one’s financial documents, including their will, power of attorney and more, should be seen as a potential sign of financial abuse.
- Living Conditions Below Means: If a loved one’s living conditions are below their known financial means, you should suspect financial abuse at some level within the organization.
- Cheap Medications: If you notice that your loved one is supposed to be prescribed brand name medication (and is being charged for it), but is being supplied with generic medication, there is fraud occurring.
- Lacking Medical Devices: If your loved one requires a medical or mobility device, but it has not been provided despite being paid for, suspect financial fraud. This applies to things like walkers, but also to other things like CPAP machines and the like.
- Missing Cards and Unusual Charges: If you notice that your loved one has lost a credit or debit card, or that there are unusual charges on his or her financial statement for things they either wouldn’t or couldn’t purchase, suspect financial abuse.
- Fraudulent Signatures: Watch for fraudulent signatures on contracts, bills of purchase and the like, which can indicate financial abuse.
Be wary and watchful – financial abuse is growing in scope in nursing homes and other facilities across the country.
What to Do If Financial Abuse Is Occurring
If you suspect that there is financial abuse occurring within your loved one’s nursing home, report it immediately to the state’s hotline. You should also alert the police, and contact an elder abuse attorney with experience handling all types of elder abuse cases, including financial abuse.