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The Crime of the 21st Century: Elder Financial Abuse

In 2018, U.S. banks reported a staggering 24,454 cases of suspected elder financial abuse to the Treasury Department; a 12% increase over 2017 and double the amount from the past five years (source: Senior Crimestoppers). The National Adult Protective Services Association reports that only 1 in 44 cases of elder financial abuse is reported to authorities. Further, the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reports that between 2013 and 2017, those over age 70 lost an average of $41,800 to elder financial exploitation. These shocking statistics are why this type of abuse is the crime of the 21st century.

At-risk elders fall into three categories.

Those who live alone, need help with daily activities, or are experiencing declining health. The abusers are both women and men and often adult children or spouses.

Most common types of elder financial abuse.

Financial abuse takes place when someone steals or swindles money from a senior. In most cases, the abusers are known to the elder.  Abusers can include caregivers, friends or relatives. The three most common forms of elder financial abuse are identity theft, use of debit or credit cards, scams (lottery and telemarketing) or abusing a power of attorney.

Targeting the elderly is attractive to the abusers because:

  1. They may be unfamiliar with technology.
  2. They may be too embarrassed to go to the authorities.
  3. They may have a situation such a disability or illness that makes them dependable on others.
  4. It is easy to determine when the elderly person receives an influx of cash, such a social security or pension benefits.

Some examples of elder financial abuse include:

  1. Large bank withdrawals or transfers between accounts.
  2. Bank statements that go to the abuser’s address.
  3. Missing property or money.
  4. The elder does not understand his/her financial situation.

Steps to protect yourself.

What can be done to prevent or minimize financial elder abuse? Enlist a trusted attorney or family member to manage the money. In the case of a family member, transparency with other family members is crucial.

In NH, the Adult Protection Law requires any person who has reason to believe that a vulnerable elder has been subjected to abuse, to make a report immediately to the Bureau of Elderly & Adult Services. 

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