Although there is no data available with regard to Malta, research overseas shows that elderly financial abuse is a growing trend. Indeed, other than the victim’s age, elderly financial abuse is a crime which is indiscriminate in choosing who it strikes. Factors such as one’s socio-economic status, gender, educational background and geographic location do not provide an impregnable barrier against its reach.
Financial abuse of elderly persons includes:
- Taking their money or property.
- Fraudulently signing on their behalf or forging their signatures.
- Deceptively coercing or using undue influence to get them to sign a deed, will, or power of attorney.
- Taking or using their property or possessions without their permission.
- Promising long-term (even lifelong) care in return for their money or property and then not fulfilling the promise or short changing them in the process
- Using deception to gain their confidence.
Strategies Adopted by Abusers
- Abusers will adopt specific strategies to gain the confidence of elderly persons they target to defraud. Such strategies include: Say they love them; Gain access to them as caregivers, counsellors, or other professional service providers.
- Seek you out as a vulnerable widow or widower by reading obituaries, driving through neighbourhoods to identify elderly people who live alone or are isolated.
- Attend church or other community functions to find elderly persons who may live alone.
- Steal physical possessions from their home.
Type of Abusers
It is unfortunate but true that close friends or family members are often common perpetrators. This happens because these people may:
- Believe they are entitled to, or justified in taking, what they believe is rightfully theirs.
- Think that the elderly person will spend all of his or her savings, thus depriving the family member of an inheritance.
- Have or had a negative or abusive relationship with the elderly person.
- Try to prevent other family members or siblings from inheriting the elderly person’s assets.
- Need money to finance a substance abuse, gambling, or other problem.
Signs that Your Loved Ones should Look Out to make sure that You are not being Financially Abused
To help protect your elderly parents or relatives from financial abuse it is important that you can identify that such abuse is happening. Sign to look out for include:
- Sudden reluctance by your parents to discuss financial matters.
- Sudden, atypical or unexplained withdrawals, wire transfers, or other changes in your parent’s financial situations.
- Utility or other bills not being paid.
- New best friends and “sweethearts.”
- Onset or worsening of illnesses or disability.
- Behavioural changes, such as fear or submissiveness, social isolation, withdrawn behaviour, dishevelled appearance, forgetfulness, impulsiveness, secrecy or paranoia (these may also be signs of health issues or dementia.)
- Sudden desire by your parents to change their will.
- Sudden increase in your parents spending or spending by persons who are close to your parents.
- Transfer of titles of homes or other assets to other people for no apparent reason.
- Large, frequent “gifts” given to caregivers or others.
- Missing personal property.
- Large, unexplained and unexpected loans taken out.
- Attempt by third parties to isolate your parents from you.
You should note that victims of elderly financial abuse may be unwilling to seek assistance because they may fear retaliation, seek to protect abusive family members from the legal consequences, or are embarrassed to admit that they are victims.