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Elder financial abuse typically committed by family or friends

Financial fraud or exploitation of the elderly happens, and it's shameful. These crimes may range from the theft of an heirloom watch or a forged check to the bilking of thousands of dollars from investment or retirement accounts. What investigators have discovered - according to a 2014 study - is that 90 percent of the perpetrators are known by the victims.

The list includes trusted people such as family, friends, neighbors and home care providers. Such was the case when a former nursing home administrator from the Pittsburgh area stole $322,000 in 2015 from an elderly man. She had used the stolen money for shopping, taxes and gambling.

A report from The New England Journal of Medicine confirms that the culprits are often family members, likely to be adult children or spouses. Most are males who have had a history of substance abuse problems, mental or physical health problems, criminal records or who are unemployed and under financial stress.

Elder fraud growing problem in our county

In recent years, Allegheny County and Pennsylvania have seen a surge in elder abuse, which includes neglect, financial exploitation and physical abuse. Financial fraud against senior citizens has played a big role in this increase. According to the county's Older Adult Protective Services unit, financial exploitation accounted for 27 percent of its cases.

The public seldom hears about elder financial abuse because the cases often go unreported. According to National Adult Protective Services, only one in 44 such cases are reported to authorities. The reason: Many victims are embarrassed, don't what to get their friend or relative in trouble, fear retaliation or are just too confused to know that they have been swindled.

Signs that elder financial abuse is happening

Here are some signs that may tip you off that your vulnerable relative is being exploited:

•· Unusual and unexplained transactions on their credit card and bank statements.

•· A significant drop in their bank accounts, retirement accounts, or other investments.

•· Unexplained money transfers. Many are made to scam artists who pose as relatives, claiming to be in a dire situation.

•· Lifestyle changes of the relative or caregiver. Is this person driving a new car, wearing new clothes or jewelry and splurging on vacations?

If you see signs of elder financial fraud or abuse, confront the perpetrator and contact authorities such as social services and law enforcement. The National Center on Elder Abuse is a solid resource and provides elder abuse hotlines in each state.

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