We’ve all received that email or phone message that goes something like this: “Dear John, a wealthy Nigerian prince (or Sultan of Sudan, Prince of Abu Dhabi, etc.) is in possession of over 30 million US dollars that he would like to remit to your bank account for holding. Your commission of this remittance will be thirty percent of the value. Please contact us immediately so that we may receive the appropriate information in order to make your entitled payment….” Generally, most people are aware that this message is most likely a scam and proceed to disregard this message. However, a few people, and more specifically those in the elder community, have proceeded to provide their bank account information, Social Security information, and other personal information in reply to this message, only discover that it was a financial scam the entire time.

Specifically, the elder community has a higher tendency to fall prey to these financial scams, as well other fraud scams, poor investments, and overall financial abuse. One recent study reported by Consumer Digest estimated that there are at least 5 million cases of financial elder abuse in the United States each year, but law enforcement or government officials learn about only 1 in 25 cases. However, few realize that as much as 90% of all financial elder abuse occurs in a domestic setting, perpetrated by the elder adult’s own relatives and caretakers.

In fact, the famous celebrity Mickey Rooney, who just passed away on April 6, was recently the victim of financial elderly abuse committed by his own family members. In September 2011, Rooney’s court-appointed conservator filed suit against the actor’s stepson, Christopher Aber, and the stepson’s wife, Christina alleging elder abuse and misappropriation of his likeness. The suit alleged that after Rooney let his stepson handle his personal and business affairs, the couple stole Rooney’s money for their own use, kept him in the dark about his own finances, used threatening and abusive language, and refused him basic necessities like food and medicine. In October 2013, Rooney’s conservator agreed to a $2.8 million stipulated judgment against the couple.

Thus, Rooney’s case proves that financial elder abuse can happen to anyone and can be committed by anyone, including your own family members. Whether they are financial scams, investment schemes, or simply stealing finances, close family members of an elderly adult should keep an eye out for possible financial abuse. There are some key signs that may signify that financial abuse of an elderly family member is taking place by another relative, such as:

Sudden changes in financial accounts

Sudden changes to legal documents

Suddenly investing in a family member’s “idea” or business scheme

Suddenly changing long-time brokers, financial advisers, or lawyers to one that the relative wants to see

A relative suddenly begins to appear around the elderly adult more frequently or in one-on-one situations

Missing bank account statements or irregular delivery of these statements

These are only a few key issues to look out for, and by no means am I suggesting that by spending more time with your family members or handling their financial matters means that financial abuse is occurring. The key word here is “sudden” or if there are possible signs of distress from the elderly adult, then there is a possibility of financial abuse. But definitely do not allow your loved ones to reply to that pesky Nigerian prince…he’s always up to no good.