Our Parents
Senior Health
Senior Living Options
Finances & Legal
Products for Seniors
About Us
A brown banner with the OurParents logo

Elder Financial Abuse: Defining, Recognizing, and Preventing It

Written by Haines Eason
 about the author
6 minute readLast updated April 26, 2023
Reviewed by Erin MartinezDr. Erin Martinez is an associate professor of gerontology and director of the Center on Aging at Kansas State University. Martinez works to promote health and well-being across the lifespan to promote optimal aging and pursues community-based interventions for improving the social determinants of health.

Most older Americans want to age at home. While there are many benefits to staying in familiar surroundings, isolation can be a problem, too. Living on their own, a senior or a senior couple can become a target of financial abuse. Financial abuse of the elderly can take the form of monetary scams, but abuse isn’t always about money — it can involve property or any resource that an unscrupulous person can use for their own benefit. Learn more about what this kind of abuse is, how to spot it, and how you can help protect your loved one from it.

Key Takeaways

  1. Elder financial abuse can involve more than money. It is the improper use of an older adult’s money, property, or other resources for someone else’s gain.
  2. Examples of elder financial abuse are diverse. They can include borrowing vehicles, selling assets or possessions without permission, and more.
  3. A family member most often commits elderly financial abuse. Sadly, 60% of those responsible are close to the victim.
  4. Every state has different laws with regard to elder financial exploitation. If you fear your loved one has been a victim, consider reaching out to your state’s long-term care ombudsman.

What is elder financial abuse, and how can it occur?

The U.S. Department of Justice defines financial elder abuse as “the illegal or improper use of an [elder] or adult with a disability’s money, property, or other resources for monetary or personal benefit, profit, or gain.”[01]
Abuse can take many forms, including the use or rental of a senior’s car or home without their permission, subjecting them to financial risk in the form of loans in their name, or the outright theft from them of money or property. And, sadly, financial abuse of elderly populations is common and affects roughly 5 million seniors per year, to a cost of nearly $37 billion.[02]

Examples of elder financial abuse

Financial abuse in elderly populations can include, but is not limited to:
  • Charging more for a good or service than is fair
  • Not performing a service or delivering a good that a senior paid for
  • Not paying back or returning borrowed money, items, or other property
  • Use of a senior’s personal items, such as a house or car, for personal gain or benefit
  • Withholding, controlling, or outright theft of money, assets, property, etc. [03]
Beyond these abuses, there are also numerous scams that target seniors, and their diversity and extremity are increasing.

Who commits elder financial abuse?

Financial professionals, caregivers, service providers, neighbors — just about anyone with a connection to a senior is able to commit elder financial abuse. However, elderly financial abuse by family members is most common, accounting for 60% of cases. Historically, this has been attributed to caregiver stress and the resentment that can result from the hard work of looking after a person with significant needs.

How can elder financial abuse happen?

The National Institute of Justice is expanding its research and sees the financial abuse of elders as stemming from several causes:

Let our care assessment guide you

Our free tool provides options, advice, and next steps based on your unique situation.

Why are seniors more vulnerable to financial abuse?

Most American seniors want to age in place.[05] However, there are pros and cons to this arrangement. As a person ages at home and their physical and cognitive abilities potentially decrease, their isolation can increase, making them vulnerable to seemingly friendly strangers or even longtime connections. An isolated senior may become more dependent on connections or “new friends,” opening the door for these individuals to take advantage of the senior. Additionally, the natural effects of aging and serious conditions like dementia can spur depression in older adults, which can also increase vulnerability.

What are the signs of elder financial abuse?

Ideally, your loved one would be able to call out elder financial abuse. Maybe a service provider has not completed a task they paid for, or someone has charged your loved one too much. Perhaps they have caught the issue and just want your guidance and a little help sorting things out. However, seniors who have been exploited may not be forthcoming about what happened or fully able to advocate for themselves. You may need to be a bit of a detective.
Signs of financial elder abuse your loved one may self-report
  • They indicate that someone is taking their money or misusing their property.
  • They say their payment methods — cards, checks, etc. — have been taken or are missing.
  • They report there are suddenly much less secure financially.
  • They seem anxious about money in general or about paying bills.
Indirect signs of financial elder abuse you may notice
  • Your loved one becomes more secretive regarding money or payment.
  • You note missing, relocated, or disturbed possessions or valuables.
  • Your loved one receives bills for care or equipment they did not receive, or they are suddenly receiving more help than they need (extra landscaping, unneeded home or car repairs, etc.).
  • You notice the onset of expensive and/or frequent gifts to caregivers or others in your loved one’s circle.
Financial elder abuse examples regarding others
  • Your loved one suddenly has a new power of attorney.
  • Your loved one reports their financial representative is not doing as they wish or is hard to pin down.
  • A new acquaintance claims to have the power to help your loved one with financial matters but has no proof that this is so.
  • Someone in your loved one’s network begins to urge them to be more frugal or even put off medical care or equipment purchases due to cost.[06]

Talk with a Senior Care Advisor

Our advisors help 300,000 families each year find the right senior care for their loved ones.

Laws that protect seniors from financial abuse

The federal government has passed legislation to fund grants for research, education, and outreach with regard to the financial abuse of the elderly.[07] The federal government also makes available to the public its own research and guidance on elder financial abuse.
Ultimately, though, it is up to each state to decide how to deal with this kind of abuse through their own laws. And every state’s legal code treats the matter differently, with some states even having their own unique definitions of what constitutes an elder, a vulnerable adult, etc.[08]
Several law firms report that no states’ laws on this matter are the same. The only point on which almost all states agree is that there should be protections for “vulnerable adults” and, subsequently, their property and assets. However, some states’ laws are very narrow, while others are robust. A good course of action, if you or your loved one are concerned, is to begin by reaching out to a long-term care ombudsman.

How to protect seniors from financial abuse

The best protection against the financial abuse of elders is strong relationships. While many Americans live apart from their loved ones, if you’re able to visit and be connected to your senior, do your best to do so. Try to play an active role in their life and in the planning of their care. Make time to hear their concerns and listen without judgment. Investigate with them, help them sort things out, and show them that you’re ready to help if they need it.
If you can’t be as close to your loved one as often as you’d like, invest in their network. How well do you know their friends, neighbors, and acquaintances? Do you know their financial planner, their doctor, and their service providers? If not, see if your loved one is willing to let you get to know their network. The more you know, the better advocate you can be.
And, if you feel your loved one has become a victim of financial elder abuse, explore these best practices for reporting.


  1. The United States Department of Justice. Elder abuse and elder financial exploitation statues.

  2. National Council on Aging. (2021, February 23). Get the facts on elder abuse.

  3. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Reporting elder financial abuse.

  4. National Institute of Justice. (2013, January 6). Causes and characteristics of elder abuse.

  5. University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation. (2022, April 13). Older adult’s preparedness to age in place.

  6. The Administration for Community Living. (2022, April 4). The Elder Justice Act.

Meet the Author
Haines Eason

Haines Eason is a sandwich generation caregiver and senior copywriter at OurParents. He’s served as senior and managing editor with the company and has covered nearly all senior-relevant topics. He holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Montana and Washington University in St. Louis, respectively.

Edited byKristin Carroll
Reviewed byErin Martinez

The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical, legal or financial advice or create a professional relationship between A Place for Mom (of which OurParents is a trademark) and the reader.  Always seek the advice of your health care provider, attorney or financial advisor with respect to any particular matter and do not act or refrain from acting on the basis of anything you have read on this site.  Links to third-party websites are only for the convenience of the reader; A Place for Mom does not recommend or endorse the contents of the third-party sites.