Financial Exploitation Investigator's Toolkit
Thank you for your partnership in the fight against financial exploitation in Pennsylvania, and welcome to the Investigator’s Toolkit. This online resource has been created for law enforcement as a companion to PDA’s in-person training, “Investigating Financial Exploitation of Seniors and Vulnerable Adults.”
It contains overviews of financial exploitation, scams, red flags, an Investigator’s Guide, and downloadable worksheets and checklist tools to assist investigators in analyzing and building cases. All of the investigation tools are available in PDF or Excel format under “Resources and Tools.”
We hope this proves to be a valuable resource that you can reference in multiple ways in your investigative work.
Financial exploitation is the use of an older adult’s resources - without their informed consent or with consent gained through coercion - for the benefit of someone other than the older adult. Financial exploitation is emerging as one of the most prevalent forms of elder abuse. In Pennsylvania, financial exploitation accounts for approximately 28 percent of the reports of need received and 17 percent of the substantiated cases each year.
The Pennsylvania Older Adults Protective Services Act, which is the law older adults protective services operates under, is more specific. It defines exploitation as “an act or course of conduct by a caretaker or other person against an older adult or an older adult’s resources, without the informed consent of the older adult or with consent obtained through misrepresentation, coercion or threats of force, that results in monetary, personal or other benefit, gain or profit for the perpetrator or monetary or personal loss to the older adult.” (35 P.S. § 10225.103)
There are two main categories of financial exploitation: scams and when the perpetrator is known to the older adult.
Scams are deceitful schemes designed to separate money from its owner. Popular scams include:
- The grandparent scam: the perpetrator calls the older adult pretending to be a grandchild, an attorney, or medical personnel stating that money needs to be provided immediately in order for their grandchild to be released from jail or to obtain needed medical treatment.
- The lottery scam: the perpetrator calls the older adult congratulating them on winning a lottery or an expensive prize. The caller then explains that the older adult needs pay taxes or import fees before the prize can be delivered.
- Debt collection scams: the perpetrator calls pretending to represent a debt collection agency trying to collect a debt the older adult doesn’t owe.
Scams are always changing and tend to go in cycles. To find out which ones are currently popular, visit the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s website at www.consumerfinance.gov.
Even though scams change, their characteristics remain the same:
- Sense of urgency – act now or: lose this opportunity, your grandson will go to jail, something will be reported on your credit report
- Demands for payment, sometimes by unconventional means, such as wire transfers or gift cards
- Asks for personal or financial information
- Insistent, not taking no for an answer
Evidence that someone has been victimized by a scam include:
- Large, even dollar cash withdrawals or payments to stores that sell gift cards
- Repeated, small dollar transactions, e.g., $19.99, $29.95, observed in the bank or credit card statements
- Excitement about winning a prize or an investment opportunity
- Complaints that a contractor did substandard work or failed to perform work they were paid to do
- Use of wire transfers or money orders when not normally used
When trying to determine if the older adult has been a victim of a scam, it is best not to ask them “have you been a victim of a scam?”. It is unlikely that you will get a truthful answer. Reasons for the untruthful answers include: not everyone uses the same definition of a scam, there is embarrassment over being victimized, and not everyone realizes that they have been victimized. It is better to ask questions regarding the characteristics of scams, such as:
- Have you sent money to a person or organization because they threaten to act against you or a family member, such as legal action?
- Have you paid money to receive something that you won, such as a prize or lottery?
- Has anyone ever asked you to send money by money order/wire transfer/gift cards?
- Has anyone ever asked you to purchase gift cards and send them the numbers?
- Have you paid a contractor to do work, but the contractor did not perform the work or did a poor job?
The second category of financial exploitation is financial abuse by individuals known to the older adult. These individuals can be family, friends, neighbor, the “new best friend”, a “new acquaintance”, or a professional such as an attorney or investment advisor. While scams are reported more frequently, the financial loss is greater when the older adults know their perpetrator.
Examples of financial abuse in this category include: taking or using the older adult’s money for personal use, intercepting income checks, transferring real estate out of the older adult’s name, using the older adult’s credit history to obtain loans and credit cards, and recommending unnecessary, commission-based investments or insurance policies.
Evidence of financial exploitation by a known perpetrator include:
- Accumulation of unpaid bills
- Unusual or sudden changes in banking activity
- Loss of valuable possessions without explanation
- Sudden changes made to estate planning documents such as the addition or removal of beneficiary names and
- The older adult’s statements about lack of funds or suspicions of theft
It is best not to ask someone if they have been financially exploited. The person may not know what is meant by “financially exploited” and may be too embarrassed to ask. They may be fearful of retribution from the alleged perpetrator. Additionally, they may not know that they have been victimized. Instead, ask them questions around financial exploitation:
- Do you have access to your bank and credit card statements?
- How often do you review your bank and credit card statements?
- Have there been unusual transactions in your accounts, such as large withdrawals or transactions you didn’t initiate?
- Does anyone living with you not pay their share of expenses?
- Has anyone borrowed money from you and not paid it back?
Risk factors for being a victim of financial exploitation are often co-occuring include, but are not limited to the following:
- Poor physical health
- Cognitive impairment
- Impaired activities of daily living
- Dependence on others for care
- Not having a spouse
- Not using social services
- Increased number of non-spousal household members and
- Social isolation
Effects of Financial Exploitation
Financial exploitation affects not only the older adult but also their caregivers. For the older adult, the effects of financial exploitation can be devastating and result in:
- Financial ruin
- Death (Financial exploitation has the second highest mortality rate of all forms of elder abuse.)
- Loss of independence or security
- A lower quality of life
- Decreased resources for health care
- Skipped or reduced meals for budgetary reasons
- Shame and embarrassment
- Depression, anxiety or suicide
The red flags (PDF) discussed below are grouped for organizational purposes. Not all examples under each group will be evident. Additionally, many red flags may be applicable to more than one situation. For example, some red flags listed in the “facility” section also apply when the victim resides in the community.
Bank records, investment records, or records from the person with financial oversight
- Sources of income that changed or stopped.
- Expected income that wasn’t deposited into the victim’s account.
- Deposits that could indicate liquidation of other assets.
- Money deposited into the account by the alleged perpetrator.
- Withdrawals from a previously inactive account.
- Large withdrawals from a new joint account or after the addition of a new authorized signer.
- Payments to a caregiver or family member above the agreed amount (or frequency).
- Expenses that are unusual for the victim (e.g., automotive expenses when the victim does not own or lease a car).
- Purchases made from vendors that are unusual for the victim (e.g., hotel expenses when the victim rarely leave the home).
- New items or services being purchased that weren’t typically purchased in the past by the victim.
- Significant increases in monthly expenses paid. This could indicate that expenses for someone other than – or in addition to - the victim are being paid.
- Checks written to unusual recipients (e.g., “cash”, salesmen, telemarketers).
- Multiple small dollar checks of the same or similar amounts (e.g., $19.99, $49.99). This could be indicative of telemarketing or charity scams.
- A set of “out-of-sync” check numbers. Someone may have stolen those checks and used them for their personal use.
- ATM/ debit card withdrawals or purchases that are repetitive over a short period of time.
- ATM / debit cards withdrawals or purchases that are inconsistent with prior usage patterns e.g., late night or very early morning withdrawals.
- ATM / debit card usage outside victim’s geographical region or normal area.
- Uncharacteristic use of wire transfers.
- Purchases made by previously unused payment methods such as ATM/ debit cards, online payments, ACH payments, PayPal, Counter withdrawals, bank / cashier checks, and demand drafts. Demand drafts are similar to a check but do not require a signature. These could indicate a scam against the victim.
- Excessive online purchases, or any online purchase if victim does not own a computer / smartphone.
- Uncharacteristic overdrawn bank accounts or low balances.
- Cash advances or check withdrawals with no prior history of such use.
- Large credit card transactions and/or unusual increase in credit card debt.
- Abrupt increase in credit card activity.
- Expenses that are unusual for the victim.
- Purchases made from vendors that are unusual for the victim.
- Items or services being purchased that weren’t typically purchased in the past by the victim.
- Purchases in locations that are unusual for the victim.
Changes to accounts and/or documentation
- Recent changes or additions of authorized signers on a victim’s financial institution signature card.
- Statements are being sent to an address other than the victim’s home.
- Victim has no knowledge of a newly- issued ATM, debit or credit card.
- Abrupt changes to, or confusion regarding changes in, financial documents such as power of attorney, account beneficiaries, wills and trusts, property titles, deeds and other ownership documents.
- Sudden unexplained transfers of assets, particularly real property.
- Sudden appearance of previously uninvolved relatives claiming their rights to a victim’s affairs and possessions.
- Discovery of a victim’s signature being forged for financial transactions or for the titles of their possessions.
- Refinance of the victim’s property, particularly with significant cash withdrawal or with the addition of new owners on the deed and, most particularly, without the new owners shown as co-borrowers on the loan.
- Closed accounts that incurred a penalty i.e. early CD closure.
Changes in appearance or demeanor
- Victim does not appear to have control over or access to their money, bank statements, etc.
- Victim has a companion / family member who seems to be “calling the shots”.
- Change in the victim’s physical or mental appearance. For example, the victim may appear uncharacteristically disheveled, confused or forgetful.
- Victim acknowledges providing personal or account information to someone via the phone or email.
- Excitement about winning a sweepstakes or lottery or a deal that seems “too good to be true.”
- Allegations from a victim or relative regarding missing funds, stolen or misplaced credit or debit cards, checkbook, etc.
- Lack of amenities (food, medical care, clothing, medications, etc.) that the person could normally afford.
- Indications that the victim is being isolated and controlled such as fewer outings or difficult for family to visit.
- The victim is prevented from speaking for themselves, or the companion is unwilling to leave the older person alone when discussing financial matters.
- The victim seems afraid, anxious, or overly submissive toward the person who controls the victim’s finances.
When someone manages the victim’s finances
This section applies to family members, guardians, power of attorneys, professional financial managers, etc. For simplicity, the term “fiduciary” will be used to represent the person handling the victim’s finances.
- There have been unusual transactions: real estate, gift cards, vehicles, credit cards, vacations, personal service contracts.
- Large amounts or frequent amounts of cash are withdrawn, sometimes recorded as “miscellaneous” or “incidentals” instead of cash.
- Fees or expenses charged to the victim do not fully detail date, tasks performed and benefit to victim.
- Transferring the victim’s property for the fiduciary’s benefit.
- Receiving payments from the victim when it hasn’t been authorized by the court, power of attorney document, or the victim.
- The fiduciary uses or borrows property for personal benefit without authorization.
- The fiduciary is overly secretive about the victim’s finances.
- Fiduciary makes decisions that are not in the victim’s best interest.
- Accountings are amended, inaccurate, unorganized or untimely submitted.
- Items are missing from completed inventories.
- There is a lack of supporting documentation, especially proof of payment and what the benefit is to the victim.
- The fiduciary is unemployed or underemployed.
- The fiduciary is having personal financial difficulties.
- The fiduciary is living a lavish lifestyle.
- The fiduciary is or has been suspended, discharged, fired, or quits.
- The fiduciary has been subject of an investigation or disciplinary action related to financial oversight.
When the victim resides in a facility
Things a victim may say or staff may observe:
- The victim, regardless of cognitive impairment, complains or reports that someone is misusing or stealing their money or property.
- The victim reports missing a checkbook, credit card, or important papers.
- The victim is agitated or distraught prior to or after someone visits or takes them out of the facility.
- The victim becomes secretive and suddenly starts hiding possessions or hoarding papers.
Note: Some of these apply when the victim resides in the community.
Things observable in or about a victim’s room or apartment:
- Disappearance of possessions
- Replacement of possessions in victim’s room with those of lesser value
- Victim lacks basics (e.g. underwear) and personal needs account has been depleted
- Blank deposit slips or withdrawal forms in conspicuous places for easy taking
- Missing or unaccounted for medications
Family dynamics and other observations when the victim is with visitors:
- Observing/hearing a victim pressured to make a decision or sign a document “now”.
- Observing/hearing a victim being threatened by family or other visitor that unless the victim agrees to or signs a document, the visitor will stop taking care of the victim.
- “Chaperoning” – alleged perpetrator lets others visit only when he/she is present and insists on speaking for the victim.
- New acquaintance showing intense affection for victim, isolating them from others.
- Previously uninvolved person(s) claim authority to manage victim’s care and/or finances but does not provide documentation.
- Family member or fiduciary declines or pressures victim to decline prescribed treatment(s) on the basis of cost, overriding the victim’s wishes.
- Family member or fiduciary avoids care plan meetings or fails to return calls from facility staff.
- Known gambling, drug or alcohol problem of victim, family member, fiduciary or visitor.
- Conflicts concerning finances between victim’s adult children or others with close relationships to the victim.
- Unpaid facility bills
- Unpaid pharmacy bills
- Stalling or broken promises from person handling victim’s money
- Abrupt or repeated changes in responsibility for paying victim’s bills
- Bills paid in cash
- Communication from a family member, friend, fiduciary or partner that he or she plans to move the victim after questions arise about suspected financial exploitation
Power of attorney matters
- Power of attorney (POA) fails to provide necessary documentation.
- Multiple powers of attorneys in conflict over responsibility to pay the facility bill.
- Victim who appears to lack decision-making capacity signs new power of attorney document.
Checks and imbalances
- Checks or other documents signed/dated when victim is no longer able to write
- Suspicious signatures (e.g. many versions of a victim’s signature or one that was shaky is suddenly firm or vice versa)
- Victim’s checkbook or check register shows checks made out to “cash” frequently and/or check numbers out of sequence
- Telephone card or telephone bill fees for calls not made by the victim or otherwise unauthorized by the victim (called “cramming”)
- Credit card charges for items not purchased by the resident
- Erratic use of personal needs allowance by family member or fiduciary
- Gifts (either frequently or costly) to staff or volunteers
- Sales of valuables to facility staff or volunteers.
The Financial Exploitation Investigative Guide for Law Enforcement was developed to aid law enforcement and others investigating allegations of elder financial abuse. It is intended that the users of this investigative guide will avail themselves of only those sections of the guide that relate to their specific allegation.
The Financial Exploitation Investigative Guide for Law Enforcement (PDF)
Instructions (PDF) for utilizing the following forms:
Monthly Bank Statement Analysis (Excel) - Use this form to analyze monthly bank account activity for changes in dollar amounts of deposits, check payments, bank withdrawals, ATM withdrawals, ATM purchases, online purchases, and other. A separate sheet should be used for each credit card account. There are three worksheets provided on the .xlsx file, but more can be added as needed.
Summary of Assets Form (Excel) - Use this form to record assets in a centralized location. Under each asset type, excluding Real Estate, record the name and account number of each type of asset, and if necessary, include who holds the asset. Examples: Classic Checking 1239840 and ABC Bank CD 9830280. In the real estate section, add the address of each property. Additional rows can be added as needed.
Detailed Review Form (Excel) - Use this form if there are a lot of transactions and you want to analyze the bank statements electronically. A separate sheet should be used for each bank or investment account. There are three worksheets provided in the .xlsx file, but more can be added as needed
Suspect Transactions Form (Excel) - Use this form to detail suspect transactions that is those transactions that do not benefit the victim. A separate sheet should be used for each bank or investment account. There are three worksheets provided on the .xlsx file, but more can be added as needed. This form should be used if you are manually reviewing statements and only recording suspect transactions. If you manually entered information into Detailed Transaction form, make a copy of that file and then – in the new file – eliminate those transactions that are acceptable, that is benefit the victim. The transactions that are left will be ones that require additional information from the victim in order to determine if the transactions are acceptable or suspect.
Credit Card Review Form (Excel)- Use this form when reviewing credit card statements electronically. A separate sheet should be used for each credit card account. There are three worksheets provided on the .xlsx file, but more can be added as needed.
Communication Tips for Interviewing Older Adults - This document provides tips on successfully interviewing and older adult, evaluating the subject's senses in respect to hearing and memory related challenges.
Learn about Select Requirements for Powers of Attorney and Other Advanced Directives (PDF) including Living Will, Health Care POA, Mental Health Declarations, Mental Health POA and Financial or General POA.
Items Used for Building Cases