When you hear the term “elder abuse,” images of negligent care or physical harm may spring to mind. While these are serious and tragic issues on their own, there are other types of elder abuse that are not so easily noticeable.

One common form of elder abuse—which can be difficult to spot—is financial exploitation. It is important to know common methods of financial abuse—and recognize the warning signs.

Con artists

Everyone has seen a website that tells them “You are the one millionth visitor!” and are encouraged to click to receive their prize. These may seem silly to most, but less technologically-savvy folks might not realize these are scams. Phone calls, letters and solicitors at the door can also be fraudulent. An elderly person may hand over checks or bank information without a second thought.

People you trust

Abuse can originate from unsuspecting people you may trust—including family, friends and caregivers. In fact, family members commit more than half of all reported cases—usually because they have the easiest access to their elderly relative’s money and information. People close to a vulnerable elderly person may steal from them, or convince the elderly person to sign over money. They may also threaten the elderly person to give them what they want.

Warning signs

If you have a loved one who could be a victim of elder abuse, it’s important to become familiar with their financial situation under normal circumstances. This can help you identify warning signs. Sudden changes can be a red flag:

  • Sudden bank account withdrawals: If large amounts of money are suddenly missing from your loved one’s account, investigate the reason for this.
  • Sudden changes in credit card use: If your loved one is suddenly charging considerably more than usual—or is taking cash advances when they have no history of doing this, it could be a sign of financial coercion.
  • Signs of financial distress: If you’re suddenly noticing collection letters on the table or limited food in the cupboards, it’s worth inquiring what’s going on.
  • Missing objects: If you discovered your loved one’s prized collectibles suddenly missing from their house, this could also be an indication of financial abuse through stealing.
  • Depressed mood: Any negative changes in your loved one’s demeanor—such as anxiety or depression—are worth closer examination.

Imagining your elderly loved one victimized by an abuser may be tough to think about. However, elder abuse is more common than we’d like to admit, and the vast majority of cases go unreported. Educating yourself about the risks and warning signs of elder abuse can help protect your loved one from harm.