Elderly financial abuse occurs when someone takes, misuses or conceals the property, money or assets of a vulnerable senior citizen. The senior may be vulnerable to abuse because of his physical or mental functioning. Because of their relative wealth, physical vulnerability and easily detectable routines, millions of seniors are victimised this way each year. Financial abuse is the second most common type of abuse faced by the elderly. According to law enforcement, for every known case of financial abuse, five more go undocumented. Elderly financial abuse includes a broad range of schemes, from financial fraud and identity theft to abuses of powers of attorney and guardianship.
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Prevalence of Elderly Financial Abuse
According to a survey of elderly financial abuse by MetLife conducted in 2009, seniors lose at least £1.7 billion each year due to some form of financial exploitation. That is up from the £0.8 billion reported just two years earlier by the National Center for Victims of Crime. Both institutes estimate that although under reported, technology, as well as the worsening economy, has made the elderly more common targets for financial abuse. Of those seniors who reported being financially victimised to the Federal Trade Commission, 8 per cent were elderly victims of fraud and 12 per cent had their identities stolen. The MetLife report says that in 47 per cent of the cases of elderly financial abuse, an adult child of the victim was the perpetrator.
Types of Financial Schemes
A grandchild slips a little money out of a wallet. An unemployed daughter charges thousands of dollars on her parent's credit card. A hired caregiver sneaks cash out of a dresser drawer. Elderly financial abuse takes many forms, but mostly involves preying on the generosity, sympathy, emotions or ignorance of an elderly person. Often even if the victims know about the theft, they may be so reliant on the perpetrator for care they don't report it. Rampant abuse happens at the hands of family members who have power of attorney or guardianship; law enforcement officials say relatives use them as a license to steal. When strangers abuse the elderly financially, they involve "sweetheart scams," with someone professing love to a lonely senior; a personal care attendant seeking work to get close to the victim; confidence games that involve new friendships by a recently widowed person identified through newspaper announcements; and overpriced medical and health-care remedies and insurance.
Spot Signs of Financial Fraud Against the Elderly
Everyone in the family and the community can keep an eye out to detect whether an elderly person is being financially exploited. Some common signs include unpaid bills, eviction notices or utility shut-off notices; withdrawals, transfers and other bank activity that the elder cannot explain; statements that are suddenly no longer being mailed to the elder's home; new friends; a lifestyle that is not equivalent to the elder's income status; missing belongings; signatures on documents not matching the elder's handwriting; and any legal documents or arrangements that the person does not understand.
Report Elderly Financial Abuse
If you see evidence of financial abuse against an elderly individual, contact your state's elder abuse hotline at 1-800-677-1116. If a crime has been committed, do not hesitate to inform law enforcement.
Prevent Elderly Abuse
Seniors who live alone or are somehow isolated are financially victimised at much higher rates. Visit your elderly relatives often and have people you trust check in on them periodically too. Have an independent financial adviser review your elderly relative's finances to spot suspicious transactions. Be sure that anyone with whom your elderly relative does business or receives care from is properly licensed or certified. Encourage your elderly relatives to not entertain strangers.
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- National Committee to Prevent Elder Abuse: Financial Abuse
- AARP: Elderly Often Have More To Lose In Financial Abuse
- Justice Department: Financial Crimes Against the Elderly
- National Center for Victims of Crimes: Elder Victimization
- MetLife Mature Market Institute: Broken Trust: Elders, Family, and Finances
- National Public Radio: When the Elderly Become Financial Targets (Audio)