Learn the Signs
Signs of elder abuse are generally evident but require that a person be tuned in and perceptive to an abusive relationship. It’s not always as obvious as black and blue marks, loud screaming and crying confrontations, but a victim’s unexplained physical injuries or sudden financial problems are signs of abuse, neglect and/or exploitation.
When suspecting the existence of abuse and in your efforts to protect the abused person, be aware of the following:
- Caregiver stress, the abuser’s emotional or financial dependence on the victim, or the abuser’s own personal financial problems often lead to acts of elder abuse.
- An elderly person who is frail, in declining physical or mental health, dependent on others, and living in a vulnerable environment may be a candidate for abuse.
- Elder’s Physical and Mental Condition: The declining physical or mental condition of many victims causes them to be dependent on the caregiver, thereby contributing to the abuse.
- Dependence of the Abuser: Many abusers are dependent on the elderly victim because of mental illness, developmental disability, drug or alcohol abuse and lack of funds. They become abusive because of their perceived inadequacies and recognition they are powerless over their life.
- Pathology of the Caregiver: Often “the abuser has a seriously disabling or sociopathic personality, psychiatric problems, mental disabilities, or financial distress.”
- Physical Abuse: The possibility that an elderly person is the subject of physical abuse should be considered when the elderly person has unexplained injuries, or when contradictory explanations are given by the elder and the caregiver. Signs include bruises, fractures, falls, burns, and lacerations.
Physical elder abuse often involves assault and battery, neglect, and sexual assault.
- Assault and Battery are primarily inflicted by either an opportunist who targets the elderly person on the streets through a mugging or robbery; (2) family members (typically sons, daughters, or grandchildren) who systematically wield aggression against their elderly parent/relative; or (3) care providers who, out of a sense of frustration or impatience, lash out in anger against the victim.
- Elder neglect is very likely in the presence of malnutrition and poor personal hygiene.
- Psychological neglect may be occurring “if the person seems extremely withdrawn, depressed, fearful, or agitated; shows signs of infantile behavior or expresses ambivalent feelings toward caregivers or family members.
- Social Isolation and Neglect: Families with a habit of violence may be more likely than others to be socially isolated. Isolation makes it easier to commit and hide the abuse.
- Physical factors to keep in mind include:
- Unexplained signs of injury such as bruises, welts, or scars, especially if they appear to be symmetrical or shaped like a specific object.
- Broken bones, lacerations, sprains, or dislocations.
- Presence of numerous prescription drugs or indications of medication not being taken regularly (a prescription has more remaining units than it should or remains unfilled) long after its renewal date.
- Broken eyeglasses or frames.
- Signs of physical restraints (marks around wrists or ankles).
- Unaccounted weight loss, signs of dehydration.
- Untreated physical problems (bed sores, urinary tract infections, etc.).
- Unsanitary living conditions (dirt, bugs, soiled bedding and clothes).
- Un-kept hygiene including being unbathed and unkempt.
- Unsuitable clothes for the weather
- Living without essential utilities (no heat, air conditioning, or running water, faulty electrical service, and potential fire hazards).
- Elder left alone in a public place.
- Neglect may be assessed when a care provider willfully or deliberately fails to provide basic services of hygiene, medical support, or nutrition to the victim.
- Sexual assault – Non-consensual sexual contact often happens in a care facility by an employee against a female Alzheimer’s patient.
Know the Signs of Elder Abuse
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Signs of Financial Exploitation of the Elder Person
- The existence of financial exploitation “should be considered IF THE OLDER PERSON IS SUFFERING FROM SUBSTANDARD CARE IN THE HOME DESPITE ADEQUATE FINANCIAL RESOURCES, and/or if the person seems confused about or unaware of his or her finances; or if the person has suddenly transferred funds or other property to a family member, stranger, or to a person with whom they have a casual relationship.” A person who worked their entire life, SAVED for retirement and lived a moderate lifestyle but who now is seemingly living day to day to make ends meet is likely to be the victim of elder financial abuse and/or self-neglect.
Other Signs of Financial Exploitation include:
- The elderly person has recently signed papers without realizing their purpose and legal effect; Many older people are vulnerable to misrepresentation(s) (intentional & unintentional) of those persons they trust. As a result, they sign legal and/or financial documents that cause him or her economic loss and/or outright forfeiture of ownership. Many of these legal documents consist of a Power of Attorney, Real Estate Deed, or a Joint Bank Account. In my world the most common perpetrators are children, siblings, and “friends”. Many times, the elderly person has been lied to and deceived about what they are signing. Civil and Criminal prosecution of such actions are available and include charges of fraud, theft, conversions and/or embezzlement but action needs to be taken as early as possible to recover as much of the economic loss as can be legally accomplished. See my page entitled Defending Yourself Against Claims of Elder Abuse.
- Without question, large withdrawals of money from the elderly person’s accounts, or checks returned for insufficient funds suggests the potential for financial exploitation. Withdrawals often are made by someone who is a joint account holder or pursuant to a Power of Attorney. An aging person adds the name of someone trusted to help him or her with bill paying and deposits but soon thereafter the account balances start to significantly decline or checks bounce. This type of behavior can be and often is illegal and can be severely punished by the criminal courts when prosecution is taken. See my page entitled, NJ Laws That Protect Against Elder Abuse and Financial Exploitation.
- Has the elderly person relinquished ownership of his/her home or other valuable property? The illustrations and discussion found in the preceding two (2) paragraphs are applicable here. Don’t misunderstand me. Not every transfer made by an elderly person is wrongful or even suspect. We are talking only about vulnerable elderly persons who are susceptible to the undue influence of others and who don’t understand or can’t resist the overpowering behavior and/or personality of their predator.
- Is the caretaker or fiduciary evasive when asked about financial activities, or the caretaker only asks questions about finances, not personal questions about the elderly person. The concerned neighbor or friend down the street is who I am talking about here and are the most dangerous. They befriend a person with little or no family close by, take them shopping and assist with household chores. Many of these individuals are well intentioned and of good moral character, but some are not. Their personality is endearing, sincere and maybe even charming but their plan is purposeful and deliberate. These persons get “in”, cultivate trust, and subtly influence the person to give away or name them as beneficiary upon death. It is this group of persons that I most aggressively go after once convinced they are a fraud.
- Financial Fraud and/or Exploitation is demonstrated most commonly with:
- Theft – The theft of personal items including jewelry and antiques (taken by a care provider) that inevitably ends up in the local pawn shop.
- Theft of individual checks – Again, most commonly committed by a trusted care provider (family or non-family) when checks are usually removed covertly from the victim’s checkbook.
- Misuse of an ATM card – The misuse of a victim’s ATM card will most likely be perpetrated by someone who has gained the trust of the victim or by using threats and intimidation.
- Credit Card and Loan Fraud – Going beyond just the misuse of personal credit, the perpetrator successfully forges the victim’s personal information into a new credit application that has been obtained without the victim’s consent or knowledge.
- Theft of Assets – For the large-scale theft of assets such as savings accounts, stocks, or real property, trusted individuals often employ either a power of attorney or quitclaim deed, either of which will be obtained through stealth or intimidation
- Scams – Today’s digital age and electronic banking creates a financial climate that is fertile ground(s) for crooks and con men to target the elderly with a large-variety of schemes. A few are listed here:
- Telemarketing fraud such as bogus charity schemes, illegal sweepstakes, and false investments take advantage of the naivety of some seniors.
- Door-to-door salespeople who convince the elderly victim to pay up front for labor services such as a new roof, driveway, or other home improvement.
- Pretending to be a representative of a utility or contractor company or some other trustworthy agency, a thief gains access to a senior’s home with the intention of either stealing what they can grab now or casing the residence for a return visit and a more thorough theft opportunity.
- Obtaining possession or legal title to a senior’s assets in return for a false promise of “lifetime care”. Most elderly persons fear the future when he or she may be less self-reliant.
- Telephone scams in which the caller pretends to be a relative such as a grandchild who is in trouble and needs money. This approach has been one of the more recently reported scams aimed at well-meaning seniors.
The location for many crimes of financial elder abuse occurs at a bank, credit union, or stockbroker firm, or over the phone. The perpetrator will often take the elderly victim into a financial institution in order to have a power of attorney prepared or to arrange for a transfer of monies. The staff at these institutions may or may not be trained to spot various techniques used to exploit seniors.
Financial Exploitation Frequently is DIFFICULT to Detect. Few People Admit to Being a Thief.
Usually by the time financial exploitation is discovered, the assets are depleted. The exploiting person argues that the elderly victim made a gift of the assets, making it difficult to prove the exploitation. Often, the exploitation is accomplished using a (joint checking account or durable power of attorney) which cloaks the transaction with at least the appearance of legitimacy. Other Common schemes include:
- The perpetrator promises to take care of the victim for life in return for the transfer of title to the victim’s home; soon after the deed is transferred, the victim is removed from the home or the victim is diagnosed with a cognitive condition and placed in a nursing home or an “emergency medical condition” develops necessitating hospitalization from which the person is subsequently placed in a nursing home and/or dies from the change in their home environment.
- The perpetrator has the victim sign a durable power of attorney or changes a bank account into a joint account so the perpetrator can pay the victim’s bills; instead, the perpetrator pays her own personal bills and empties the victim’s accounts. These accounts usually represent a lifetime of savings that cannot be recouped. I’ve discussed this elsewhere on this page, so I won’t repeat it again here. Durable Power of Attorney are instruments of great assistance and sometimes weapons of mass destruction.
- The perpetrator gets the confused and incapacitated victim to sign documents, including a power of attorney (POA) or new will, under threat, yelling or fraud; in some cases, the perpetrator forges the client’s signature on documents. Forgery, deceit and “mistaken” trust will have permanent consequences to the victim. See my video below. A guardianship may be in order.
How a Guardianship Can Help Protect Against Elder Financial Abuse
You should be alert to the signs of elderly financial abuse. If you recognize any of these patterns in a relationship, it probably is elder abuse and you should act. Contact Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq., a NJ elder abuse and financial exploitation attorney. He can be reached toll-free at (855) 376-5291 or you can email him at email@example.com.
Written by Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. of Hanlon Niemann & Wright, a New Jersey Elder Abuse Attorney