Abuse of elderly and impaired adults, including financial abuse, is a terrible tragedy that is increasing at an alarming rate. It comes in many forms, from physical and mental abuse and neglect to financial exploitation. One state (Alaska) has reported that approximately 11% of U.S. citizens age 60 and older suffer from some form of abuse, neglect, or exploitation1. In Alaska, reports of abuse of its long-term care residents have increased by 200% in the past three years, with the most common reports of harm being neglect and financial exploitation.
Elder persons in the United States have lost at least $2.9 billion as a result of various forms of financial abuse.
The true amount is undoubtedly much higher as many cases go unreported (MetLife estimates are that less than 3% of cases of financial abuse are ever reported). Elder financial abuse is expected to increase as the baby boomer population ages. Strangers account for 51% of the perpetrators of elder financial abuse, while friends, neighbors and family make up 34% of the perpetrators.
Individuals in the business sector commit 12% of elder financial abuse, and 3% involves Medicare and Medicaid fraud.
Victims of financial elder abuse have a relationship of trust and confidence with 90% percent of their abusers.
Elder financial abuse may involve theft, forgery, deception, con-artistry (by “confidence men” or “cons”), “romance scams,” coercion, and undue influence to obtain money or property, either directly by outright taking, or indirectly by means of a will, power of attorney, or deed.
Older citizens, particularly those with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, and other complex health problems, as well as other adults who are mentally or physically impaired, are often singled out as victims (as I believe my mother was when her house was burglarized recently). They present attractive targets due to their dependence on others. Dependence makes it more likely that they will rely upon and trust others who falsely present themselves as friends and helpers who have the elder person’s best interest at heart. For example, elder persons who are targeted often live alone and are uncomfortable with technology, which may present opportunities for a “helper” to gain access to bank accounts.
The resulting emotional and physical trauma, sometimes accompanied by a significant financial loss, can have a devastating effect on victims’ lives. Some victims sink into isolation, afraid to go out anymore – to the doctor, the grocery store, or to visit friends. Even those who have not experienced abuse directly often know of others who have, and they suffer from disabling fear themselves.
Elder abuse is perpetrated by strangers, family members, and caregivers. It cuts across all socio-economic, cultural, racial, and ethnic categories. Abuse and neglect of residents in long-term care facilities often goes unreported. Victims often fear that additional abuse will result from reporting the abuse. Some victims are simply unable to understand or report such conduct to the proper authorities, just as they may be unable to protect themselves from conduct that is abusive and sometimes criminal.