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Elder Financial Abuse: Where and How to Report It

Written by Haines Eason
 about the author
7 minute readLast updated May 2, 2023

Elder financial abuse is a significant problem affecting millions of Americans and costing billions of dollars yearly. But statistics are cold comfort if your loved one has been a victim. It can be difficult to know where to turn, how to share what you know, and what information to include. What’s especially frustrating is every state has its own laws, resources, and reporting systems. Here, we break down the steps to follow if your loved one has experienced this very distressing kind of transgression.

Key Takeaways

  1. Knowing where to report financial abuse of the elderly can be hard. Your local law enforcement agency or adult protective services program is a good first choice.
  2. When deciding how to report elder financial abuse, there are many questions to ask. Be sure you slow down, document your concerns, and consider all our suggested questions.
  3. If you can’t do a deep investigation, stick to the basics. Sometimes, it’s all too much: Review our must-address pointers before making your report.
  4. It can be hard for a senior to report elder financial abuse. They may be embarrassed, confused, or unaware. Be as patient as possible as you help them.

Where to report financial abuse of the elderly

Your loved one is the victim of financial abuse. What now? You should report elder financial abuse as soon as possible, but to whom? Every state’s laws treat elder financial abuse differently, and many law firms report no state’s laws are identical.[01]
However, no matter where you are, look to these sources for help:
  • Start with your state’s adult protective services (APS) program. These social services entities serve older adults and adults with disabilities. They are also a good general resource. Note that your report to an APS program may be rejected. The National Adult Protective Services Association has a fact sheet that can help you understand why if this happens to you.
  • If you want a live expert’s help before trying the other suggestions, consider the National Elder Fraud Hotline (833-FRAUD-11, 833-372-8311). Callers can expect to connect with a real person and, if they do want the help, a case manager, too. The hotline is a free program overseen by the Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime.
  • If your loved one resides in a senior living community, it is always good to know who their long-term care ombudsman is. These professionals are advocates for the elderly and vulnerable and can offer accurate guidance on how to report elder financial abuse in your area. The National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care maintains a national long-term care ombudsman search tool.
  • If you are witness to abuse in action — a theft in action, for instance — or if someone is in immediate, life-threatening danger, call 911.
  • While 911 may be appropriate, in most cases, elder financial abuse is best reported to your local authorities’ nonemergency number. Your local police or sheriff’s office will have a nonemergency number and will be able to guide you through how to file a report.
Beyond APS, an ombudsman, or law enforcement, there are other supports and professionals to consider:
  • Your loved one’s primary care physician’s office, if it’s a larger clinic, may have a social worker or other resource coordinator on staff. These particular social workers should be skilled at helping vulnerable individuals connect with protective help quickly.
  • If you’re worried about a specific account or accounts, you can help your parent contact their financial institutions and either report fraudulent transactions or freeze accounts as necessary. You may also want to see if your parent subscribes to an identity protection service or carries an insurance policy that can make them whole.

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How to report elder financial abuse

The natural instinct when you or someone you love is in trouble is to make a call to an authority and quickly share whatever information you have on hand. However, if you do this, you may leave out crucial details. Though it runs counter to how one feels in these moments, pause, collect yourself, and gather what you need to record all the facts as you and your loved one know them.

If you do not know who could be responsible

It’s okay if you don’t yet know who could be responsible. And note that financial abuse isn’t limited to money. Anything of value — including jewelry, cars, a house, etc. — that someone could use or take for their own benefit falls into the category. Focus on what you do know, and ask these questions:
  • What is missing?
  • When did you notice it missing? (If looking at financial accounts, ask how long has something seemed “off”?)
  • What do you remember about the area in which you last saw the missing item? Was anything disturbed? Were any entry points open?
  • Was there anything unusual about the day on which you noticed the item missing? Did a family member or service provider visit the house that day?
  • Think over the last few days and weeks. What changes, large or small, have occurred in your parent’s routine? Are they going somewhere new each week? Is there a new person in their life?
  • Outside of their routine, has anything, small or large, seemed new, strange, or out of the ordinary? Don’t leave out anything that seems inconsequential.

If you have someone in mind

If you have an idea who might be responsible for harming your loved one, it is still important to address the questions above before proceeding to describe a suspect or suspects. Once the above questions are addressed, consider these:
  • What is the name, address, phone number, occupation, and likeness of the person or persons you are concerned about?
  • How would you describe your parent’s relationship with the person or persons of concern? Do they have any legal power in regard to your parent?
  • How long has the relationship existed? How did it start?
  • Looking back over the relationship, are there any moments that now seem odd or concerning to you?
  • Has the relationship always been smooth? Has it been on and off?
  • Do you know anyone else who knows the person or persons of concern?

Essential information to include in an elder financial abuse report

If you and/or your parent are just too overwhelmed to dig deep into your suspicions just yet, the following are the absolute essentials you should include in a report to the authorities:
  • The urgency of your concern — law enforcement especially need to know how quickly you desire them to respond
  • The time and date of the incident or incidents
  • The location of the incident, including any information about the wider surroundings
  • A detailed description of the incident or missing item or items

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Also, and this may be hard as your parent is the presumed victim, do your best to include a detailed characterization of your loved one’s wellness profile. Include any information on their medical conditions, prescriptions, mental acuity, etc. While you might worry including this information could make your loved one a suspect after a fashion, it’s important to put forward all information.

Why does elder financial abuse go unreported sometimes?

To you, it’s common sense: Something’s wrong, and it needs to be reported. However, to your loved one, it may be more complicated. There are many reasons why your parent might not report elder financial abuse:
  • They don’t realize something has happened to them or are embarrassed.
  • If the perpetrator is a family member or friend, the senior might not want that person to end up in serious trouble.
  • They like to manage their own affairs and didn’t know where to report the problem, so they stayed silent.
  • They’re worried they may be forced to give control of their lives to someone else because they’ll be seen as unable to manage their own affairs.
Worst of all, though, a person might not report elder financial abuse because the abuser has made it clear there will be retaliation if the abuse is reported. Try your best to remain calm as you help your loved one navigate what is certainly a very difficult time for them.

Reporting elder financial abuse: Next steps

Once you and your parent have decided how to proceed, you might want to step back and take some time to yourself. Think on what happened, why it happened, and what could be done to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
Additionally, knowledge is power. The Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime maintains a page on common scams and warning signs. Learning about common scams may help you and your parents spot a future perpetrator before things get out of hand.
Also, maybe some part-time in-home care could help. Maybe your loved one is having memory issues and needs the support of an actual memory care community.
Whatever you decide, our Senior Care Advisors are willing to field your questions and concerns, and their help comes at no cost to you.


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

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