Financial exploitation of seniors living in nursing homes is a major problem. According to a study reported by the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA), “financial mistreatment [is] the most commonly reported form of abuse, followed by potential neglect, emotional mistreatment, physical mistreatment, and last sexual mistreatment.” The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) calls financial exploitation of seniors “[t]he crime of the 21st century,” and an “epidemic [that] is truly under the radar.” According to the CFPB, seniors lose billions of dollars to financial exploitation every year.
If you have an aging loved one living in a nursing home in the Chicago area and you suspect that he or she may be a victim of financial exploitation, these are important facts for you to know. In today’s world, you cannot simply dismiss your concerns; and, sadly, you cannot assume that your loved one’s nursing home has his or her best interests in mind. Financial exploitation in nursing homes is a form of elder abuse that has become alarmingly common; and, if you have concerns, you should seek professional help as soon as possible.
Who Commits Financial Exploitation of Seniors Living in Nursing Homes?
Financial exploitation of seniors can take many forms; and, in the nursing home context, it can involve individuals who are employed by the nursing home, other individuals, or even the nursing home itself. As explained by the CFPB, “Elder financial exploitation cases are complex. Financial exploitation often occurs in relationships where the vulnerable person has placed his/her trust and confidence in another person.” Some of the most-common forms of financial exploitation include:
- Nursing homes overbilling residents for services, supplies, medications, or use of equipment (or billing for services or items that were not actually provided to residents).
- Investment fraud perpetrated by “investment advisors” or scam artists who specifically target seniors, and who may even seek to give presentations inside of nursing homes or at free-lunch events promoted to nursing home residents.
- Nursing home caretakers using their position of influence to convince nursing home residents to modify their estate plans, grant them power of attorney, or provide access to their financial accounts.
- Caretakers, administrators, and other nursing home staff members stealing residents’ cash, checkbooks, credit cards, debit cards, and other items of value.
- Nursing home administrators and other individuals pressuring residents to make financial decisions quickly and without the opportunity to speak with a lawyer, financial advisor, or family member.
- Other residents, service providers, and care providers who gain unauthorized access to aging nursing home residents’ rooms and valuables.
The National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA) breaks down financial exploitation of seniors into three categories: (i) scams by strangers, (ii) scams by “professionals,” and (iii) exploitation by “trusted others.” Some of the most-common forms of financial exploitation falling into each of these categories include:
1. Scams by Strangers
- Lottery and sweepstakes scams requesting that nursing home residents send a small sum of money in order to collect their prize.
- Charity scams fraudulently soliciting donations that are simply pocketed.
- Staff members and third-party service providers asking residents to leave their room so it can be cleaned or so medical equipment can be serviced, and then stealing residents’ valuables or financial information.
2. Scams By “Professionals”
- Predatory lending scams to collect payments from nursing home residents.
- Annuity and investment fraud scams.
- Taking out credit cards or otherwise gaining access to financial resources by stealing nursing home residents’ personal information.
3. Exploitation by “Trusted Others”
- Fraudulently obtaining a power of attorney in order to gain access to nursing home residents’ finances.
- Threatening physical abuse against nursing home residents unless they give money or financial account information to the perpetrator.
- Keeping change from errands, forging residents’ checks, and asking residents to pay for items purchased for caregivers and other individuals.
These lists are by no means exhaustive. Financial exploitation can take many different forms, and nursing homes, scam artists, and others are constantly finding new ways to take advantage of unsuspecting seniors. Once again, if you have any reason to suspect that your aging loved one is a victim of financial exploitation in a Chicago nursing home, you should speak with someone immediately.
What are the Warning Signs of Financial Exploitation of Nursing Home Residents?
While some cases of financial exploitation will be obvious, it is not uncommon for residents and their family members to be unsure of whether this form of nursing home abuse has occurred. Sadly, many financial exploitation scams target nursing home residents who are suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia precisely because these individuals are unable to discern what is being done to them. In this scenario, family members must be especially vigilant to monitor for the signs of financial exploitation (and other forms of nursing home abuse), which may be financial, psychological, or even physical:
1. Financial Signs
- Unpaid bills
- Missing cash, checks, credit cards, or debit cards
- Stalling or other evasive tactics by individuals responsible for managing nursing home residents’ finances
- Refusals from nursing home administrators, investment advisors, and others to provide information about nursing home residents’ finances
- Unusual or unexplained purchases made with residents’ checking accounts or credit cards
2. Psychological Signs
3. Physical Signs
- Living below nursing home residents’ means
- Substitution of generic medications or other low-cost items for nursing home residents’ normal purchases
- Missing property
- Deteriorating health condition due to a treatable injury or illness
- Lack of access to mobility devices and other necessary medical equipment
What Should You Do if You Suspect Financial Exploitation in a Chicago Nursing Home?
The CFPB has identified “four pillars of successful intervention” for preventing and putting a stop to financial exploitation of seniors living in nursing homes. While these “pillars” are designed to assist nursing homes in developing protocols and procedures for combatting financial exploitation in their facilities, they can serve as a useful roadmap for nursing home residents and their loved ones as well.
1. Prevention – Through Awareness and Training
The more you know about the sources, risk factors, and warning signs of nursing home financial exploitation, the better able you will be to respond quickly, and potentially even prevent exploitation from occurring. Try to help your aging loved one understand the risks as well, and help him or her take steps to reduce the chances of theft or financial abuse.
2. Recognize – Spot the Warning Signs and Take Action
If you spot any of the warning signs of financial exploitation, it is important to take action promptly. Like other forms of nursing home abuse, financial exploitation is rarely a one-time event. Whether you notice unusual purchases on your loved one’s account statement, valuables are missing from your loved one’s room, or your loved one is exhibiting psychological symptoms of abuse, it is important to promptly determine whether there is an alternate explanation or you need to take action against financial exploitation.
3. Record – Document Your Findings
If you believe that your parent or other aging loved one may be a victim of financial exploitation in a Chicago nursing home, you need to try to document your findings. Write down what you are thinking so that you don’t forget later, take photos, print files – do whatever makes sense under the circumstances at hand. If you need to take legal action to recover your loved one’s losses, these early records could be important evidence in your claim for financial recovery.
4. Report – Tell the Appropriate Authorities and Trigger Responses
When faced with a situation of nursing home abuse, including financial exploitation, there are three primary legal options. The first option is reporting the incident to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH). IDPH has oversight of nursing homes operating in Chicago, and it has the authority to impose penalties against nursing homes that perpetrate or allow financial exploitation to occur.
The second option is to file a complaint with the local prosecutor. Financial exploitation of seniors is a criminal offense, and perpetrators can face fines and jail time if convicted in court.
The third option is to speak with a civil attorney about taking legal action against the nursing home or other perpetrator directly. This option allows you to recover your loved one’s financial losses and pursue other appropriate remedies, including extricating your loved one from an abusive nursing home. An attorney who is experienced in handling nursing home financial exploitation claims can also file complaints with IDPH and the local prosecutor on your behalf if it makes sense to do so.
Ultimately, if you have concerns about financial exploitation in a Chicago nursing home, the best thing you can do is to seek help immediately. There is no harm in being wrong, but failing to take action can have drastic consequences for your aging loved one.
Schedule a Free Initial Consultation at Malman Law
Are you concerned that a loved one who is living in a Chicago nursing home may be a victim of financial exploitation? If so, we encourage you to contact us for a free, no-obligation consultation. To speak with a nursing home abuse lawyer at Malman Law in confidence, call 888-625-6265 or tell us about your situation online now.