With significant assets such as a home or retirement savings, older adults are often targeted for financial exploitation.  At the same time, they may be more vulnerable due to declining physical or mental health.  Perpetrators of elder financial exploitation may take advantage of this vulnerability by manipulating the victim or using their position of trust to gain access to their assets.

Research in the area of elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation focuses more often on the victims than the perpetrators.  But what do we know about perpetrators and why they do what they do?

Family Members & Friends

Strangers are often thought to be the most common perpetrators of elder financial exploitation.  In fact, the opposite is true.  The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) reported that 53% of elder financial abuse cases were committed by family members.  This number includes close relatives like adult children or spouses.

Nursing Home Staff & Caregivers

Unfortunately, financial abuse can happen in a variety of ways at nursing homes.  Staff can access a resident’s purse or wallet and take anything from cash to credit cards, and even checks.


What makes identity theft and scams different from other types of elder financial exploitation, is that the perpetrators are strangers or people that the victim does not know.  Strangers get access to seniors via phone and email in order to steal their money.

These strangers may pretend they are:

  • Reaching out because the older adult has won a sweepstakes contest.

  • A relative who needs money.

  • Bank examiners who need to speak with the older adult.

  • Contractors who claim that the senior’s house needs repairs.

Trusted Professionals

Lawyers, managers, accountants, and financial advisors are expected to keep the assets of their clients safe.  Unfortunately, professionals don’t uphold their ethical commitments and may abuse their position of power to exploit their clients.  Some ways trusted professionals do this include:

  • Charging excessive fees or billing for hours not worked.
  • Churning accounts.
  • Using undue influence to compel an older adult to make the professional a beneficiary or their relatives.
  • Using client funds to make risky investments in personal business deals.