Aging Californians may eventually need to hand over control of their finances to someone else. Sometimes, a person chooses a trusted family member or friend to take over financial decisions. Other times, an unrelated caregiver takes the reins.

But when that person no longer performs his or her fiduciary duties with honesty and integrity, they become a financial abuser. Similarly, a salesperson who seeks to exploit a vulnerable adult financially is guilty of this type of abuse.

What is financial abuse?

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines financial abuse as a form of domestic violence. It is most common within families. Often, it accompanies physical abuse, especially between spouses. However, it is also possible to practice financial abuse against elderly friends and relatives, too, with or without a physical component.

Financial abuse and the elderly

When someone steals from an elder or another person in their care, it is financial exploitation. The National Adult Protective Services Agency defines this exploitation as the misuse or theft of the assets of a vulnerable adult, usually an elder or disabled person. Examples of financial exploitation include:

  • Direct theft of valuables, medication or cash
  • Record falsification or forgeries, including writing unauthorized checks
  • Electronic extortion such as e-mail “phishing” or scam phone calls
  • Real estate or mortgage hustles
  • Insurance fraud

Understanding financial abuse and learning to recognize the signs is vital for anyone who cares for a vulnerable adult. Credit freezes, comprehensive estate plans and direct assistance from a financial advisor or lawyer could help mitigate the effects of exploitation or prevent it altogether.