Despite the Elder Justice Act, passed in 2010, financial abuse of the elderly continues to be an enormous problem. In a follow-up study to research done in 2009, MetLife, with researchers from Virginia Tech and the University of Kentucky, released a report in June 2011, that shows financial abuse of the elderly remains rampant.(Download Full Report here)

Some key findings of the report:

-Fraud committed by strangers: 51%

-Fraud committed by family, friends, neighbors: 34%

-Fraud during holiday seasons (Thanksgiving to Christmas) was overall highest category.

-Women were twice as likely to be victims of fraud than men.

-Most victims were between 80-89 years old, lived alone, and needed some assistance with personal care or home maintenance.

-60% of the perpetrators of the fraud were male.

-An annual loss by victims of financial abuse is estimated at $2.9 billion dollars.

What Can Be Done to Protect Seniors?

In Massachusetts, the Executive Office of Elder Affairs (EOEA) has a hot-line setup specifically for suspected cases of elder abuse. That number is 1-800-922-2275. Reportable abuse includes suspicion of fraud or theft. Additionally, every city and town in Massachusetts has a state agency, created by the EOEA, designated to assist seniors. These agencies, called Aging Service Access Points, are the local representative for seniors and their families needing assistance. Click here to find the ASAP for your community.

Many times, the problem is that families are either unaware of the problem or are the ones actually committing the financial abuse. Another problem is that the senior may not even realize that they are a victim of fraud.

Knowledge Before a Crisis

This is the “ounce of prevention” method. Although it may be awkward to talk to an older relative about their finances, it is better to do this before a crisis hits home. ABC News reports that 94% of children have never spoken to their parents about their finances. Having this conversation will build trust and educate family members about the finances of the elder.
ABC News/Moneywatch link about how to talk with your older relatives about their finances.

Depending on each family, it may make sense to have two people involved in this conversation. If there is any possibility that a family member may not always act in the best interest of the parent, they should be excluded from the conversations. Encouraging the family member to record bank and financial information may also help open the door to conversations.

Practical Steps

There are some steps that can be put in place to protect the most vulnerable:
-Register the home telephone number with the Do Not Call Registry

-If there is in-home care – health aides, cleaning services, etc. – hire from a reputable company and make sure the company is insured and performs background checks on employees;

-Periodically check the mail coming into the house. If there are a large number of solicitations, it could be a sign that the person has been placed on a list of likely targets. If your relative agrees, maybe consider setting up a post office box to prevent this mail from even coming into the house. You can bring the mail to them and throw away the solicitations.

-Get the person a shredder and set it up for them. If they are unsure what to shred, have them make a pile that you can review and shred with them. Once they start shredding, it usually becomes an enjoyable habit!

-If the person is already a victim, report the fraud to the police, the bank, the Attorney General’s Office for your state, Better Business Bureau, and the person’s doctor.

Financial abuse of the elderly is a terrible problem, perpetrated by terrible people. There is just no single – or simple – answer. Family involvement, openness, and trust, may help protect from outside scammers, but could also contribute to fraud by a family member. However, having several family members involved with an older person, and building their trust, is a good start.

Additional Resources:
AARP Article: Tips for Avoiding Being a Victim of Fraud

AARP Article: Elderly Fraud Victims

Aging Care Article with Tips to Help Parents:

FBI Information on Common Fraud Schemes and What Actions to Take

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