Preventing Financial Abuse of the Elderly

[NAELA colleague Jim Zeigler of Jackson, Tennessee has graciously allowed republication of this timely article on the rise of financial exploitation of elders.  Caregivers, relatives and friends of Seniors in every State should take note of the checklist offered in this article and be on the lookout for instances of financial elder abuse like those depicted here.  The Rhode Island Department of Elderly Affairs maintains a hotline for reporting elder abuse: 401-462-0555].

Jackson, TN ( – Reports of seniors being scammed are on the increase, and the sophistication of the scams is also increasing.

Now, a checklist of warning signs is available for families, caregivers and others in the aging network – signs that indicate a need to check the senior’s finances, looking for the possibility of exploitation.

The scam checklist was birthed online. An e-mail “list serve” is run by the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. Every weekday, elder law attorneys post dozens of e-mails about developments impacting seniors. One of those posts in January asked if a checklist exists of warning signs that a senior could be suffering financial exploitation.

Attorney Bruce P. Bower is Deputy Director of Texas Legal Services Center in Austin. His e-mail post said, “If any attorney on this list uses a checklist to determine if an elderly person has been financially exploited, either by a family member or in a consumer transaction, we’d be interested in receiving your checklist.”

Bower used an example: “A recent potential scam was reported in Dallas concerning a home ‘repairer’ whose family was part of what was referred to as ‘Travelers.'”

He asked the online elder lawyers: “Aside from ‘Travelers’ and the ever-present trust mills, what other forms of financial exploitation against the elderly are being seen?”

The result was an explosion of e-mail responses from across the elder law nation.

Attorney Pam Wright of Jackson, Tennessee e-mailed a list of scam warning signs. Wright is a veteran staff attorney with Tennessee Legal Services. With her permission, publishes the list as “Senior ScamWatch.” We will add to and improve Senior ScamWatch as feedback continues from our readers and elder lawyers. Here is the first draft of Senior ScamWatch:

  1. Enrollee’s personal belongings, papers, or credit cards are missing; or there are signs of a break-in or vandalism on the premises.
  2. Signatures on checks or legal documents that do not resemble enrollee’s signature.
  3. Frequent checks made out to “cash”.
  4. Enrollee appears truly fearful when questioned about another person’s handling of the enrollee’s finances.
  5. Notice of eviction or foreclosure.
  6. Notice to cut-off utilities or property tax past due.
  7. Large number of credit cards to manage.
  8. Numerous unpaid bills.
  9. Purchase of home improvements that are more costly than appropriate for the home’s value or enrollee’s budget.
  10. Enrollee owns home but no longer gets tax notice and doesn’t know why.
  11. Enrollee has signed blank legal or financial document “to be filled in later”.
  12. Problems with income taxes.
  13. Enrollee has a trustee, conservator or representative payee AND enrollee’s basic needs are not being met.
  14. Enrollee signs on loan for another person.
  15. Withdrawals from bank accounts or transfers that the enrollee cannot explain.
  16. Unusual activity in the enrollee’s bank accounts; such as large withdrawals, frequent transfers between accounts.
  17. Explanations given about the enrollee ‘s finances don’t make sense.
  18. Enrollee has no documentation about financial arrangements.
  19. The enrollee does not understand or know about financial arrangements that have been made for him or her.
  20. Bank statements and canceled checks no longer come to the home, and enrollee does not know why.
  21. Banking activities at new accounts at banks with which the enrollee has no prior connection.
  22. A new person’s name is added to a bank account and enrollee does not know why.
  23. Frequent phone calls from charities or telemarketers.
  24. Enrollee is spending money on sweepstakes, gambling games, psychics and other scams.
  25. Relatives or caregivers, who were never involved before, suddenly appear and want to be very involved.
  26. Enrollee is repeatedly solicited for un-prescribed “health services.”
  27. Telephone bill is unusually high.
  28. Someone else controls the money and refuses to spend it on the enrollee.
  29. Frequent or expensive gifts to a caregiver, friend, family or provider.
  30. Someone else expresses too much interest in how much money is spent on the enrollee’s care.
  31. Enrollee is unaware of monthly income or recurring bills.
  32. Legal documents suddenly appear, which the enrollee doesn’t understand.
  33. Enrollee or caregiver state that a contract exists for enrollee to pay for caregiver’s services, especially if payment is a gift of the home.
  34. Multiple visits by door-to-door salesmen.
  35. New “best friends,” or suspicious “sweetheart” including an improperly chummy or flirtatious provider.
  36. Enrollee unaware of reason for upcoming appointment with banker or attorney.


It is important that financial exploitation of a senior be spotted and stopped early before the money and the culprit are gone. Prosecuting an accused (assuming you can discover the actual name and address) may be helpful as punishment and deterrence, but it can be too late to recover money or property for the scam victim.