Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of articles by Michael Hackard, Esq., that are excerpts from his book, The Wolf At The Door: Undue Influence And Elder Financial Abuse.

Wrongdoers have their methods and tactics, and it’s our responsibility to counter them at every turn. What follows is an analysis of the most common ways elderly Americans are taken advantage of.

Caregiver Abuse

When a Michigan trial judge dismissed a family’s lawsuit against a home care company for sending a caregiver with two felony criminal warrants to care for a man in his eighties, the national press erupted with questions about how this could happen.

In this particular case, the Kentucky-based home care company, ResCare, sent a woman to a retired Detroit-area businessman’s house to look after his ailing wife, who had dementia. It didn’t take long until the wife’s jewelry began to disappear—as well as the businessman’s fortune. Court filings estimated the losses to be as high as $1.5 million. The caregiver, if she could be called that, moved the businessman out of his bedroom into the basement of his lakefront home and moved her own mother into the home. The businessman’s wife died, and within a matter of months, the caretaker “married” the businessman.

When the businessman’s family members finally intervened and removed him from his home, his finances were in shambles. None of his bank accounts had positive balances, nor did he have any working credit cards. He had his monthly Social Security payment—that’s it.

The businessman and his family are sadly representative of the widespread abuse affecting our growing elderly population. I have handled a number of cases where predators, posing as legitimate caregivers, quickly took advantage of their elderly charges. This misconduct includes physical and medical neglect, and is often coupled with embezzlement and theft.

The Michigan case didn’t work out well. Then again, by their very nature, no abuse case can really ever work out well. Even with a partial financial recovery, the seismic emotional repercussions stemming from misplaced trust don’t easily recede.

Financial Exploitation

Financial exploitation takes many forms. Even though I have been counseling families for decades, I am regularly surprised by some new form of abuse. An incomplete list of malfeasance could include the sale of an elder’s medications; grocery bills more attributable to cash withdrawals taken by caregivers than bread and milk purchased for the elder; lawn services for a small yard being billed at $300 per week; money being used for gambling fees; medical care and dental care being neglected because of a theft of funds; and assignments of bank accounts into joint tenancy with a wrongdoer.

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