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When we entrust the care of our loved ones to an assisted living facility or nursing home, our hope is that they will look out for their best interests. This of course includes their physical health and emotional well-being, but it also means protecting them from financial abuse.

Financial exploitation is a form of nursing home abuse that affects far more Alabama residents than you might imagine. Recently, The New York Times detailed the scourge of elderly financial abuse that has afflicted older generations for years – and is a growing concern given the aging of our population. It’s one Alabama legislators took seriously when they passed the Protection of Vulnerable Adults from Financial Exploitation Act last year. The statute, effective July 1, 2016, requires investment advisers and brokers to report suspected cases of financial abuse of an older person or someone with disabilities.

Still, financial exploitation is so often unreported or overlooked, officials say, because there is no federal government system that fields complaints and intervention. The effects can be devastating, as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reports, as financial losses can leave the victim financially unstable and at risk of involuntary discharge, or at risk of loss of housing for non-payment.

Recognizing Elder Financial Abuse

The CFPB reports those most likely to exploit older adults are family members or other trusted people, such as clergy. There is also the risk of stranger scams, as well as theft by nursing home staffers.

When your loved one has been the target of elderly financial abuse, it can affect the entire family. Our nursing home abuse lawyers in Mobile can help you hold the perpetrators accountable, and examine whether there was a failure of nursing home policy that left your loved one particularly vulnerable.

Some examples of nursing home financial abuse may include:

  • Coercing or tricking a resident into signing documents, contracts or wills;
  • Improperly using power of attorney or conservatorship powers;
  • Using credit cards or credit information to set up accounts;
  • Misusing money designated to pay bills or other financial obligations;
  • Cashing resident’s check without authorization or permission;
  • Forging resident’s signature;
  • Stealing or misusing possessions, money or other assets.

In recent years, the U.S. Justice Department has trained prosecutors specifically in handling elderly abuse, and online training courses have been extended to local law enforcement agencies across the country.

Still, the CFPB refers to elder financial abuse as “the crime of the 21st century.”

Elder Financial Abuse Increasingly Prevalent

In 2010, one study indicated older Americans lost an estimated $3 billion to financial exploitation. That figure is believed to be outdated. Another analysis found that protective service agencies and programs for victims only reached 1 in every 44 cases of financial exploitation.

While it’s true that anyone can be targeted by fraud and scams, the elderly – particularly those in nursing homes – are especially vulnerable because those being cared for in these facilities have much higher rates of cognitive impairment. Cognitive impairment, which more than 22 percent of Americans over age 70 have, diminishes the ability of a person to detect scams and fraud.

Losses in cases of financial abuse often go far beyond the economic. Victimization can result in loss of independence, severe emotional distress, deteriorating physical health and a shortened lifespan.

It’s imperative that nursing home staffers become educated on these issues, so that they are adequately equipped to recognize, record and report financial abuse of elderly residents when it occurs.