World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is June 15, which makes it a great time to learn to recognize the signs of financial exploitation of older vulnerable adults.

Elder financial abuse is frequently perpetrated by someone in a position of trust, such as a dishonest family member or friend, contributing to the $3.5 billion stolen each year from older Americans.

These cases are often underreported and difficult to detect because their victims — vulnerable adults — shield their perpetrators with their silence. The reasons for not reporting these crimes are complex. They may simply be unaware of the exploitation, or they are having difficulties communicating, are isolated by medical and mobility issues or they live in genuine fear of retaliation.

[Read more: Senior Scams: How They're Targeted and Why]

These crimes are heartbreaking. They destroy trust and a sense of security, along with the financial futures of the victim and their heirs.

The first step in protecting your loved one from elder financial abuse is being aware of the signs and taking steps to prevent and intercept this form of exploitation.

Signs of elder financial abuse

  • Signs of neglect or unpaid bills, particularly if you know that the older adult should have the resources to cover their expenses. Perhaps their phone or utility service is interrupted after a lifetime of on-time payments. Or they receive an eviction notice for unpaid rent. Be aware of smaller signs, such as their usual services and upkeep coming to an uncharacteristic halt — such as lawn care, hair appointments and housecleaning.
  • Changes to financial or legal documents. These aren’t always easy to detect, but changes in property titles, power of attorney, wills, trusts and banking access are all red flags that call for questions and follow-up.
  • Unusual financial activity. Look for large withdrawals of cash, mysterious new accounts or frequent transactions that don’t match the older adult’s usual methods. (For example, you might notice a sudden and drastic uptick in online transactions when the account holder doesn’t use online banking.)
  • Large outlays of cash to caretakers or “friends.” These might be characterized as gifts or payment for completing chores and other favors.
  • Gatekeeping and isolation. The older adult’s ongoing health issues can serve as a handy ruse to place some distance between friends and loved ones, so they can continue the exploitation without detection. If you’re blocked from having contact without the other person being present or listening in, that can be a red flag.

Be aware of their caregivers

Be aware of the people who are in the life of the vulnerable adult. When caregiver and others in a position of trust steal from these vulnerable adults, motives can vary. Sometimes, it's little more than greed and opportunity. It’s also important to understand these crimes are often preceded by financial stress experienced by the perpetrator, whether it’s a shortage of income, being overwhelmed by bills or having an addiction to fund. Faced with money pressures, the caretaker uses their ease of access to their loved one’s Social Security check, PIN or account information to fund their “solution.”

They may even talk themselves into believing they will repay the money. That means if you find them out, they’ll make a convincing case of their pressing need and their intentions to right the wrong. But it’s important to stand your ground and report the incident to the right authorities.

[For further reading: Choosing the right financial caregiver]

What to do if you detect elder financial abuse

If you suspect or detect elder financial abuse, do not hesitate to report it immediately.

Minnesota Adult Abuse Reporting Center: This is a statewide hotline where you can report financial exploitation and other forms of maltreatment to vulnerable adults. They’ll take your report and notify the appropriate county, state and law enforcement agencies for a possible criminal investigation and to activate adult protective services. Call 844-880-1574 or email

Report Social Security fraud: For suspected cases of misallocating the vulnerable adult’s Social Security payments, contact the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) online or by calling 800–269–0271.

Get support: The National Elder Fraud Hotline is there to listen and direct you to local resources. Call 833–FRAUD–11 or 833–372–8311 Monday–Friday, 10 a.m.–6 p.m. eastern time, or visit their website via the U.S. Department of Justice.

Notify your bank: If you're concerned about your loved one's accounts at Minnwest Bank, or need to report suspected fraud, we're here to help. Reach out to our customer care number 24/7 at 1-844-MINNWEST (646-6937).

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