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Preventing Elder Abuse and Fraud

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one out of ten adults over the age of 60 who lives at home experiences some form of abuse. Worse, the New York State Office of Children and Family Services estimates that for every case that is reported, 23 go unreported or undetected, because the victims are ashamed, afraid, or unable to seek help.

Identifying Abuse

Abuse takes many forms, so it is important to understand the different types and to know the warning signs:

Physical abuse

The intentional use of force that results in injury, pain, or impairment. Examples include:

  • Hitting, pushing or shoving, shaking, pinching, or other physical assault
  • Improperly restraining or confining a person
  • Giving medication that is not needed (or denying medicine that is required)

Warning signs include unexplained bruises, as well as broken eyeglasses and general fearfulness or nervousness.


Failure to provide basic needs or to protect from harm. Neglect may be intentional or unintentional, with the latter often stemming from ignorance or inability. Examples include:

  • Depriving or withholding food, water, hygiene, clothing, or shelter
  • Limiting access to necessary health care or devices (such as dentures, glasses, or hearing aids)

Warning signs include dirty or unsanitary living conditions, weight loss, untreated medical or physical conditions, and dirty clothing or clothing that is unsuitable for the weather.

Sexual abuse

Any sexual contact or behavior that is not consensual. This includes forced or unwanted intentional touching of a person who is incapacitated or unable to agree due to cognitive impairment. Examples include:

  • Comments that are lewd or inappropriate or that cause discomfort or distress
  • Touching, including through clothing
  • Forcing someone to look at pornography or watch sex acts

Warning signs include anal or vaginal bleeding, genital infection, and torn or bloody undergarments.

Emotional abuse

Deliberately inflicting mental or psychological distress. This can be verbal or nonverbal, and is designed to isolate, humiliate, threaten, or otherwise control a person. Examples include:

  • Calling someone names or insulting them
  • Making threats or attempting extortion
  • Limiting contact with friends, family, or medical or support personnel
  • Limiting access to resources like money, transportation, or even the telephone

Warning signs include changes in personality or behavior, including fear or tension between the senior and abuser.

Financial abuse or fraud

Illegal or improper use of money, property, or other resources, for the benefit of someone other than the owner. Examples include:

  • Forgery
  • Theft or misuse of money or possessions
  • Coerced transactions of property or financial assets
  • Denial of access to assets
  • Improper use of guardianship or power of attorney

Warning signs include unusual spending or bank withdrawals, unusual purchases (especially for big-ticket items), sudden changes in financial condition, and unpaid bills.

Risk Factors for Abuse

Abuse occurs in all communities, regardless of income or ethnicity. Although older adults are often victims of physical or emotional abuse because they are frail, they are often targets of financial abuse and fraud because scammers know that seniors and retirees typically have more money than younger adults.

The risk factors for becoming a victim of abuse are surprisingly similar to the factors that increase the risk of a caregiver becoming abusive. So be especially alert if your loved one has or is cared for by someone with:

  • Cognitive impairment or poor judgment due to illness or substance abuse
  • Mental illness, including depression
  • Limited coping skills, especially if caring for someone who is highly dependent or needs a lot of assistance
  • Limited support or social network

If You Suspect Abuse

Whether or not you see any warning signs, red flags should always go up if your loved one displays unexpected personality changes or becomes unwilling to let others into his or her home.

If a senior has been physically abused or is in immediate danger, call 911 immediately!

In New York State:

Adult Protective Services are part of the Office of Children & Family Services. For help or information, call 1-844-697-3505 or look up your county’s Department of Social Services Adult Protective Services.

In New York City:

Contact NYC Adult Protective Services (APS) at 1-212-630-1853
NYC Department for the Aging Elderly Crime Victims’ Program at 1-212-442-3103

The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office investigates and prosecutes crime involving elderly victims and operates an Elder Abuse Unit. Contact them at 1-212-335-8920, or call Manhattan DA’s Elder Abuse Hotline at 1-212-335-9007.

If you suspect your loved one is the victim of a scam:

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