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Elder Abuse Warning Signs and Tips for Keeping Seniors Safe from Fraud

With the over-65 population in the U.S. expected to grow significantly in the coming decades, financial exploitation of senior citizens will increase dramatically, according to a new book.

“Stealing Joy: A True Story of Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse, and Fraud,” is a first-person account of how the author’s elderly mother was taken advantage of in her final years.

Glynnis Walker Anderson, Woodstock resident and author of “Stealing Joy,” joins us to talk about exploitation of the elderly. Also joining us is David Williams, supervisor of the financial crimes and public corruption unit at the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office. Williams also oversees the unit that handles elder fraud and abuse.


Elder abuse and abuse of adults with disabilities is the least recognized form of family violence, according to the Illinois Department on Aging.

Below, learn about the types of abuse, financial exploitation, tips for preventing fraud and how to report suspected abuse.

Types of abuse

Abuse can take several forms, including:

  • Physical abuse (this category comprises 20 percent of reports alleging adult abuse)
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional abuse (45 percent of reports)
  • Confinement: Restraining or isolating an elderly person for reasons other than medical necessity
  • Passive neglect: The failure by a caregiver to provide an older person with the necessities of life (food, clothing, shelter, medical care, etc.), because of the failure to understand the older person’s needs, or the lack of awareness or capacity to provide those services
  • Willful deprivation: Willfully denying an older person medical care, shelter, food, therapeutic device, or other physical assistance (38 percent of reports alleging adult abuse cite active or passive neglect)
  • Financial exploitation: The misuse or withholding of an older person’s resources (58 percent of reports) to the disadvantage of the elderly and/or to the advantage of another person

The abuser and victim

Most often the abuser is a family member—adult, child, spouse, grandchild, or other relative—according to the Illinois Department on Aging. The abuser could also be a non-relative caregiver.

Most often the victim is a white female with an average age of 79, according to the Illinois Department on Aging. Victims may suffer from some form of dementia or physical impairment, making them dependent on others for care. They may also be reluctant about reporting abuse.

Financial exploitation

The frequency of elder fraud—the financial exploitation of the elderly—is very common, according to David Williams, supervisor of the financial crimes and public corruption unit at the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office, who oversees the unit that handles elder fraud and abuse.

“Criminals pick targets wisely and they recognize that the elderly are often vulnerable, easy prey,” Williams said. “The population is living longer, so we’ll be seeing more of this. We’ve seen so many sad cases of this sort of exploitation: Elderly being exploited by friends, neighbors, and caregivers, sometimes even family. We’ve seen siblings get power of attorney and steal the entire estate from other siblings.”

Financial exploitation has many warning signs, according to the Cook County State's Attorney's Office. Learn more about them below. 

Unusual bank activity

  • Sudden changes in regular withdrawal activity
  • An increased number of withdrawals (usually cash)
  • An increase in number of trips to the bank

Unsolicited investment or business opportunities

Includes instances in which the victim is:

  • Offered a deal that is “too good to be true”
  • Approached with an offer to participate in an “investment opportunity”
  • Solicited by telemarketers requesting their personal identity information, such as their name and address, bank account and/or credit card numbers, or Social Security number
  • A winner of a “prize lottery” which requires a large amount of money to be paid before they receive the “prize”

Uncharacteristic remodeling activity

  • Victim suddenly obtains home equity loans for remodeling projects
  • Victim makes withdrawals for excessive or unnecessary landscape repairs or upgrades

Sudden travel arrangements

  • Unusual withdrawals for vacations or travel

Change in legal documents

Instances in which the victim is

  • Asked to sign legal papers they don’t understand, such as a reverse mortgage, quit claim deed or power of attorney
  • Asked to co-sign or guarantee a loan
  • Asked to provide collateral for a loan
  • Allows access to personal accounts
  • Forced or unknowingly alters their estate plan changing the beneficiary of their will, trust, retirement plan or IRA, or insurance policies 

In her book “Stealing Joy,” Glynnis Walker Anderson detailed her account of how her elderly mother was taken advantage of in her final years. 

“The attorney who had written up my mother’s will a few years earlier, leaving the estate with me, conspired with a neighbor to have her write a new will just months before she died,” she said. “She didn’t even know she was signing it because she has Alzheimer’s, but she was in Canada, and I was here, making it difficult to do much. Her doctor contacted me when he noticed these two people had power of attorney to make life decisions for her. It’s very hard once someone has power of attorney to contest it.”

After spending several years and thousands of dollars in court contesting the will, Anderson was awarded her mother’s estate per the original will. As difficult as they may be, conversations regarding end-of-life planning are crucial, according to Anderson.

“You should have the difficult conversation about what their preferences are medically and financially, as well as have them write a will and talk to their loved ones about it before age 70, and have these conversations regularly. Alzheimer’s is increasingly affecting younger people. Have the conversation before your loved one is no longer competent enough to make a wise decision,” she said.

Tips for preventing fraud

Williams shares precautions people can take to prevent elder fraud from occurring. Read his tips, below.

  • Be vigilant about your parents’ finances
  • Get power of attorney
  • Get help if you suspect someone is being taken advantage of. Call both the police department and Illinois Department on Aging. The police will investigate whether there’s crime or fraud being committed. The Illinois Department on Aging will send a social worker to the house to make sure the elderly person is OK and will talk to them about your concerns.

Reporting abuse

To report suspected abuse, financial exploitation or neglect of an older person or a person with disabilities between the ages of 18-59, call the Adult Protective Services Hotline: 1-866-800-1409.

Residents who live in nursing facilities can call the Illinois Department of Public Health’s Nursing Home Complaint Hotline: 1-800-252-4343.

Residents living in supportive living facilities can call the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services’ SLF Complaint Hotline: 1-800-226-0768.

According to the Illinois Department on Aging, those reporting suspected abuse should be prepared to answer the following questions:

  • The alleged victim’s name, address, telephone number, sex, age and general condition
  • The alleged abuser’s name, sex, age, relationship to victim and condition
  • The circumstances which lead the reporter to believe that the other person is being abused, neglected or financially exploited, with as much information as possible
  • Whether the alleged victim is in immediate danger, the best time to contact the person, if he or she knows of the report, and if there is any danger to the worker going out to investigate
  • Whether the reporter believes the client could make a report themselves
  • The name, telephone number and profession of the reporter
  • If the reporter is willing to be contacted again
  • Any other relevant information
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