Elder financial abuse has many faces.

It might come in the form of strangers pushing a “confidence game” where they earn the victim’s trust, a caregiver charging an exorbitant rate for her services, or a family member who has a sense of entitlement to the victim’s money.

Befriending involves unscrupulous people making the acquaintance, and gaining the trust, of a senior who has something they want — usually money. They may ask for money directly or provide a real or imagined service for seniors with an unrealistically high price tag.

Either way, it gets done with a smile.

There are warning signs to look for. In these cases, the warning signs share one thing in common: A new best friend.

To make sure someone you love doesn’t fall victim to an elder financial abuse scam, keep a lookout for the following warning signs:

  • The appearance of a new “best friend.”
  • Unexplained missing funds.
  • An overreaching caregiver – for example, one who opens the senior’s mail.
  • Bank statements no longer come to the senior’s address.
  • Unusual checks or credit card charges.
  • Medications going missing.
  • The appearance of new electronics that might be used by caregivers, such as a large flat-screen television or a new laptop.

Someone can increase the chance of nipping elder financial abuse in the bud by recognizing what makes a senior vulnerable, including:

  • Physical or mental handicaps that might impair his or her ability to stop financial abuse.
  • Having a family member with a drug or gambling addiction.
  • Depression.
  • Being unaware of their assets.
  • Isolation and loneliness.
  • Being intimidated by technology, especially as it relates to finances.

Financial abuse is a form of domestic abuse and should be reported to the police. Criminal charges filed often lead to a misdemeanor and/or felony charge.

Some states have confidential hotlines for reporting neglect, abuse, and exploitation. Many elders are intimidated by their abusers and are hesitant to report fraud.

Communication is so important when dealing with older Americans. A lack of communication — specifically an unwillingness or a sense of taboo about discussing money — is a key factor in so many cases of elder abuse.

Talk to them and educate them not only about the potential threats, but also ask about how their day was and tell them what’s going on in your life. Sometimes they are lonely and looking for a friend.

After a lifetime of work and taxes, retirees should be able to enjoy their golden years without worrying that they are being scammed. The reward for living a long and productive life doesn’t include getting exploited in retirement. Protective measures such as designating powers of attorney and the ongoing support from friends and family are the best ways to preserve a senior’s well-being.

Judy Heft is the CEO/founder of Judith Heft & Associates, a financial and lifestyle concierge celebrating 25 years in business helping people stay financially organized. She is the author of “How to Be Smart, Successful and Organized with Your Money.” For more information visit www.judithheft.com.