Elder Financial Abuse is “Epidemic,” Public Health Concern, Study Finds

Financial abuse of older Americans has become an “epidemic” in recent years according to the findings of a recent study on those falling victim to financial crime and fraud. The study, conducted by  the Investor Protection Trust, finds that 65% of more than 750 interviews with experts who work with older Americans reveal victims of investment fraud or financial exploitation. 

Of those who commit elder financial fraud, family members and caregivers are among the most common culprits. Strangers are the next most common group of perpetrators. 

“Our new survey shows that financial swindles targeting older Americans are a bigger problem today than ever before and that seniors need more help.” said Don Blandin, president and CEO, Investor Protection Trust. “…Of course, there is no ‘silver bullet’ that will end the financial abuse of America’s seniors. Putting a major dent in the problem will require new and innovative collaborative efforts by many different experts and organizations, both public and private.”

Education is seen as the No. 1 way to combat the problem, through counseling or personal finance management programs tailored to the needs of older Americans. These programs are most effectively delivered through local professionals, protective service workers, law enforcement agencies and health care professionals, as well as senior centers, the study finds. 

The magnitude of the problem and lack of effective ways to identify elder financial abuse has led it to become a health issue in addition to a national concern, says Dr. Mark Lachs, Psaty Distinguished Professor of Medicine, Weill Cornell Medical College, and director of geriatrics, New York-Presbyterian Healthcare System.

“Elder financial abuse is not only about financial exploitation: It is a major public health problem. When older Americans are financially exploited and there are no resources left for their care, these individuals effectively become wards of the state. In these cases, all Americans end up paying.

Further, Lachs says, identifying the problem sometimes falls on doctors in their interactions with patients. 

“…what we are looking at here qualifies as an epidemic,” he says. “And it’s not only minor financial exploitation but includes major problems like people getting deeds to houses, taking out credits cards, getting control of bank accounts, etc. That’s why I tell the residents who I train around these issues that an annual physical may be the only opportunity to intervene.”

View the study findings

Written by Elizabeth Ecker

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