Some have called elder abuse “the crime of the century.” This crime can be difficult to detect and investigate, but one of the few ways to stop an elder from being financially exploited is to report it. Unfortunately, data gathered by the National Adult Protective Services Association estimates that only one in 44 cases of senior financial abuse are ever reported.
Sadly, most abusers are family members, which puts both the victim and any witnesses in a difficult spot. I have heard numerous people tell me that their aging loved ones were being taken advantage of by a relative, but the desire to avoid confrontation and even reprisal discourages most people from getting the police involved. Things become even more complicated if the victim’s cognitive function is in question and if the abuser is a primary caregiver or considered dangerous.
People often call me to confirm their suspicions that a certain action constitutes financial elder abuse, and these vague inquiries are frustrating for any lawyer to hear. I listen, tell them it does sound suspicious, and implore them call the Elder Abuse Hotline. I can't report it, because callers usually do not provide names or any other identifying information. Afterwards, I can only hope that they act on the knowledge that their aging loved one is in what sounds like an abusive situation.
If you think an elder in your life has been or is being abused, I can only urge you to speak up. But first, you need to gather some details and know where to file a report.
How to Report Financial Elder Abuse
The exact process varies from state to state, but in most situations, your local law enforcement office will have a form that allows you to report your concerns. Some states even feature confidential 24/7 hotlines for reporting neglect, abuse and exploitation.
In any report, whether written or verbal, certain essential information must be included to permit police officers and/or adult protective services staff (APS) to do their jobs. You must name the elder you suspect is being abused and provide their home address as well as name the suspected abuser and provide their home address if you have it. You are not required to give your name, but providing it can be very helpful to the experts investigating your claims. If you are afraid of the suspected abuser, you may be able to remain anonymous.
You will need to identify the location of any suspected actions which appear to you to be abuse, whether they occur at the elder's home in the community or at a long-term care facility where the elder resides. This may have some bearing on which protective entities investigate your claims. For example. APS generally handles community reports while the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program handles reports that occur in nursing homes, board and care homes and assisted living facilities.
Next, you need to specify what you saw or heard that caused you to suspect exploitation and when it occurred. General comments like “My nephew has been ripping off his grandmother for years!” are not helpful to law enforcement and legal professionals. Instead, a detailed account such as, “My nephew, John Smith, took his grandmother's wallet, and I heard him threaten her if she didn't write him a check out of it last Sunday,” is far more substantial.
Law enforcement needs witnesses and other evidence to make its case against an abuser. If you can, be sure to identify any other witnesses who are aware of the suspected abuse. The more specific and supportive information you can provide, the stronger the case against the abuser will be, whether it results in a criminal trial, a revocation of their power of attorney, the appointment of a guardian for the elder or a restraining order against the abuser.
Seniors Depend on Us for Protection
If you believe that an aging loved one is a victim of any type of crime, it is crucial to speak up. Reporting it takes the matter out of your hands and enables law enforcement and/or social services agencies to protect the senior in question.
It may be difficult to report the suspected abuser, especially if it is someone you or your loved one is close to. Many elders are intimidated by their abusers and are too frightened to report the problem themselves. Your loved one may even discourage you from going to APS or the police about this matter, but you must do your part to protect those who are vulnerable.
Visit the National Adult Protective Services Association website to locate state-specific information on and resources for reporting financial exploitation in your area.