Followup Study Finds Financial Abuse of Elderly Is on Rise

Older Americans are losing $2.9 billion annually to elder financial abuse, a 12 percent increase from the $2.6 billion estimated in 2008, according to "The MetLife Study of Elder Financial Abuse: Crimes of Occasion, Desperation, and Predation Against America's Elders."

The study, based on a comprehensive review of news articles on elder financial abuse, found that crimes involving strangers as the perpetrators made up more than half (51 percent) of reported cases of elder financial abuse, followed by crimes involving family, friends and neighbors as perpetrators (34 percent). By contrast, MetLife's study two years ago found that family members and caregivers were the culprits in most cases (55 percent). Robberies and crimes classified as "scams perpetrated by strangers" increased from 9 percent to 28 percent from 2008 to 2010. Exploitation from the business sector accounted for 12 percent of reported cases. Medicare and Medicaid fraud made up 4 percent of cases.

According to the study, which is accompanied by a consumer guide and tip sheets on preventing elder abuse, the most common abuse scenarios involved strangers who targeted victims out shopping, driving or managing financial affairs, and often looked for particular flags of vulnerability like handicap tags on cars, walking canes or the display of confusion. Crimes included cons, purse snatchings and associated physical assaults. In cases involving a person known to the victim, trusted helpers like caretakers, handymen, friends, "sweethearts," children, lawyers and others seized upon opportunities to forge checks, steal credit cards, pilfer bank accounts, transfer assets and generally decimate elders' financial safety nets.

The typical victim of elder financial abuse was a woman between the age of 80 and 89, who lived alone and required some help with either health care or home maintenance. Nearly 60 percent of perpetrators were males, mostly between ages 30 and 59.

"Our findings illustrate the dehumanization of victims that takes place in the process of financial abuse and further destruction of financial security that occurs," said Sandra Timmermann, Ed.D., director of the MetLife Mature Market Institute. "In almost all instances, financial exploitation is achieved through deceit, threats and emotional manipulation of an elder. In addition to this psychological mistreatment, physical and sexual violence frequently accompany the greed and disregard of financial abuse. The vigilance of friends and family can help protect elders from those who are predatory, which may, unfortunately, include strangers or even other loved ones."

"The 2010 Passage of the Elder Justice Act may bring more attention and resources to this crime leading to prevention among the expanding older population," said Karen A. Roberto, Ph.D., director of the Center for Gerontology, at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, which assisted with the study. "In addition, a new Office of Financial Protection for Older Americans has been established as part of the new Financial Regulatory Reform Bill and Congress continues to focus on new legislation regarding this issue."

Articles from a daily National Center on Elder Abuse newsfeed served as a primary source of information for the study. Over the three-month period from April through June 2010, 314 media reports revealed approximately $530 million in losses from all forms of elder financial abuse. Extrapolating from this figure to take account of unreported losses, MetLife estimates the annual dollar amount loss by victims of elder financial abuse in 2010 was $2.9 billion, a 12 percent increase from 2008.

To read the full report and related materials, click here.

For the ElderLawAnswers article, "Elder Abuse Web Site Offers Resources and Contacts," click here. For the article, "Identifying and Dealing With Financial Abuse of the Elderly," click here.