The Thieves

It is widely accepted, and thoroughly documented, that elder financial exploitation is carried out by two basic categories:

  • Strangers; or,
  • Someone with a trusted relationship with the senior, such as family members, friends, or caregivers

In a United States Department of Justice document titled “Elder Financial Exploitation”; the USDOJ details the type of individual who exploits an elderly person:

“There is no one dynamic of an offender involved in financial exploitation of a senior citizen. The individuals range from:

  • Truly bad actors who planned the abuse and proceeded in a calculated, knowing, and deliberate fashion to abuse elder persons; or,
  • Individuals who did not plan to abuse elderly persons, but readily or reluctantly took advantage of an unexpected opportunity where it was advantageous for them to do so; or,
  • Individuals who acted in a manner, although still inappropriate, that was at least somewhat consistent with the elderly person’s wishes.”

In her article “Financial Crimes Against the Elderly”, Kelly Dedel Johnson, a criminal justice consultant, classified offenders into two categories: stranger and family/friend/caregiver; and within those two groups, she identifies two types: dysfunctional and predatory.

The Stranger Thief:

Most people think of the “stranger offender” as the telemarketer on the other end of the phone. Each of us has received some type of phone call that we perceive as a scam, so we can relate to that approach.

However, the “stranger offender” category takes on various forms beyond that of the telemarketer. Many of the methods used are new spins on old cons, but adjusted to target senior citizen.

For more information on the type of stranger thefts, please read our detailed page on this category.

Trusted Family / Friends / Caretakers:

In an article titled “How to Identify Elder Financial Abuse – Types, Signs & Prevention”, by Lainie Petersen, she lists the types of individuals who are trusted by the senior citizen; and use that trusted relationship to exploit the senior financially:

Elder abusers frequently develop close relationships to their victims and use these trusting friendships to gain access to the victim’s assets. Common abusers include:

  • Family Members: many of those who commit financial elder abuse are close family members, including children and spouses. Family members may commit financial abuse out of a sense of entitlement – they feel that because they are already the elder’s heirs, or because they’ve provided caretaking services without financial compensation, it’s okay to help themselves to the elder’s funds and property.
  • Caretakers: a home health or nursing home worker (including owners and management) may persuade a client to give him or her money. Caretakers may also steal valuables from the client’s home or room.
  • Neighbors: neighbors sometimes have the opportunity to steal from the elderly, particularly if they frequently perform chores for them and, like family caretakers, feel entitled to compensation.
  • Professionals: unscrupulous lawyers, bankers, financial advisors, and other professionals find ways to cheat the elderly by engaging in deceptive billing practices or by embezzling funds.
  • Con Artists: a professional con artist may become “friends” with the elderly person, begin a romantic relationship with their target, or persuade the target to invest in nonexistent businesses or stocks.

When a senior citizen is vulnerable based on the research noted on our “Contributing Factors” page, no one is above suspicion. While suspicion and paranoia is generally unhealthy, being too trusting can be deadly to the senior citizen. Elders and their family must put checks and balances to limit or eliminate the risk.

Sometimes a senior citizen may experience two or more forms of abuse simultaneously, a situation referred to as polyvictimization. The USDOJ article “Elder Financial Exploitation”; the researchers note that in some cases of theft by trusted individuals, there may be additional abuse occurring, such as physical or emotional:

  • In studies conducted in the United States across several adult protective services, estimates are that approximately 30% to 40% of older adults experience multiple forms of victimization by the same offender.
  • It is believed that the dynamics are different for victims of polyvictimization, or those who experience two or more forms of elder abuse, compared to victims who suffer from only one form of abuse.”

One specific form of polyvictimization is referred to hybrid financial exploitation, defined as financial exploitation co-occurring with physical abuse and/or neglect.8 The dynamics of hybrid financial exploitation are characterized by:

  • An offender who tends to be a relative, generally a close relative, of the older adult, such as an adult child or grandchild, or spouse
  • Abuse has typically dominated family interactions for decades, reflecting a significantly dysfunctional family unit
  • An older adult who had provided care for the adult offspring for many years or decades
  • An offender who had some kind of psychopathology, limiting their employment opportunities, and consequently is financially dependent upon the victim
  • An older adult who is dependent or likely soon to become dependent on others for assistance because of declining health
  • An older adult is driven by the fear of being relegated to a nursing home, as well as the desire to protect the “loved one”

Among the hybrid financial exploitation cases, physical abuse and neglect might be the mechanism to obtain financial gains, while in other cases, financial exploitation might occur as a distinct act from the other forms of elder abuse due to different triggers.

Dysfunctional and Predatory Type of Offenders:

Referring to Johnson’s article “Financial Crimes Against the Elderly”, she documents these two types of offenders within the categories of Stranger and Trusted Family / Friend/ Caretaker:

  • Dysfunctional: these offenders are dysfunctional people with low self-esteem who may be abusing substances, feeling stressed, or feeling the weight of their caregiver responsibilities. They do not generally seek out victims, but instead passively take advantage of opportunities that arise
  • Predatory: these offenders methodically target vulnerable seniors, establish power, and obtain control over their assets

For more information on the services we provide, please visit our How We Help page.

If you need assistance, would like to schedule an educational seminar, or would like to help our project, please contact us.

Additional resources for elder financial fraud can be found here.

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