Senior Financial Abuse

By Kirk Brechbiel

Financial abuse is a form of senior abuse that can rob a senior of self-esteem and trust as well as his or her means of subsistence. When a relative, friend, or caregiver exploits an older person and manages to drain away savings, assets, and good credit that have taken years to accumulate and establish, the result can be devastating. Seniors are also a prime target for identity thieves because of their perceived vulnerability.

Older adults living in residential facilities, or under the care of another person, are at risk because the caregivers have access to the senior’s personal records. Some examples of financial exploitation include:

  • Establishing credit using the victim's personal information
  • Forging the victim’s signature or stealing a person’s money or possessions
  • Deceiving a victim into signing a contract, will, Power of Attorney, or other document

Identity thieves can drain bank accounts, rack up huge credit card bills, obtain loans, refinance the victim’s home, and even commit crimes with the victim’s identity. Some of the most common ways to obtain personal data include:

Wallet or purse theft: Seniors are more likely to carry their Social Security cards or Medicare cards with them, making them prime targets.

Dumpster diving: Thieves dig for personal information in the trash of homes and businesses.

Phone scams: Thieves pose as insurance companies, charities, banks, governmental agencies, or other businesses to gather personal information over the phone.

Records theft: Medical records, social security records, and other forms of personal records are a golden ticket in the wrong hands.

Online fraud: Fake emails and websites with false fronts are set up to trick unsuspecting consumers into providing personal data. The emails and websites make a good pretense of appearing legitimate and may even look just like a real communication from a company with which the victim does business.

Mail theft: Thieves intercept incoming and outgoing mail to obtain personal identifying information, collect checks, and to intercept pre-approved credit card offers.

In general, there seems to be an overall reluctance to report financial exploitation. An older person may be hesitant to report a relative or caregiver because of the emotional attachment to that person. Seniors may be scared that, if they report an incident, they may lose their independence because family members or guardians may deem them incapable of handling their own affairs. Due to their perceived vulnerability, making them attractive targets, seniors should be vigilant about protecting their personal information. This includes:

  • Guard Social Security numbers, checks, credit cards, Medicare cards, and financial statements at home and only carry what is absolutely needed in your purse or wallet.
  • If possible, use a locked mailbox for incoming and outgoing mail. Don’t put mail in your mailbox with the flag up. If possible, go to the post office to mail items.
  • Tear up or shred unneeded personal documents, receipts, pre-approved credit offers, and any other item that includes personal information about you or your accounts.
  • Never give your Social Security number, mother’s maiden name, account numbers, or passwords to anyone who contacts you by phone, Internet, or email. Make a phone call to the legitimate business's customer service # to verify a request for information.
  • Check your credit reports and financial statements regularly. If you notice any suspicious activity on your accounts or bill, contact the bank or company immediately. To obtain your annual free credit report, call toll free 1-877-322-8228 or go to

To get assistance, contact the Department of Health & Human Services' Aging Abuse hotline by calling toll-free 1-800-677-1116 to be directed to a local resource, or contact the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) at 1-800-677-1116 or

*For more tips for seniors, go to Ella Home Care at