Elder financial abuse reaches “epidemic” proportion

June 3, 2011

For the past 30 years Jenefer Duane has seen older Americans fall victim to financial scams. But in recent years she has watched the problem get far worse.

“Elder financial abuse has grown to epidemic proportions,” she said.

Actor Mickey Rooney, now in his 90s, elevated the profile of the problem earlier this year when he won a restraining order against his stepchildren. He claimed they used intimidation to get access to his money and later told Congress how that can happen to a vulnerable senior.

Duane, who has led the San Francisco-based Elder Financial Protection Network for more than a decade, said the aging population has made more seniors a target for scam artists and, sadly, members of their own families. “The fact is that they’re living longer and are more dependent on support,” she said.

A study released this week by the MetLife Mature Market Institute found that nearly $3 billion a year is being lost to elder financial abuse. That’s 12 percent higher than in 2008.

Scams and fraud targeting the elderly are increasingly a problem, Duane said. Seniors are often pitched financial products they don’t need including reverse mortgages and annuities. “The prey on isolation and loneliness or diminished capacity,” she said.

Indeed, more than half the cases of elder abuse in the MetLife study involved strangers, the report found. About one-third of the alleged perpetrators were family, friends or neighbors.

The study, done with the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the Center for Gerontology at Virginia Tech, found that:

  • women were almost twice as likely to fall victim,
  • the majority of victims were in their 80s and lived alone,
  • and that the victims were most vulnerable during holidays.

“Our findings illustrate the dehumanization of victims that takes place in the process of financial abuse and further destruction of financial security that occurs,” Sandra Timmermann, director of the MetLife Mature Market Institute, said in a statement. “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. ”

Elder financial abuse tends to be a grossly under-reported crime, experts say, because of the shame of becoming a victim, the fear of reporting a family member and the perceived risk of a loss of independence if the circumstances became known.

Women are particularly vulnerable, the experts said and statistics bear out.

“Women outlive men, and we’re still seeing a generation of older women who depended on the male spouse to manage finances,” Duane said. “They often trust people they shouldn’t trust.”

John Breyault, vice president of the National Consumer League overseeing fraud issues, said elder financial abuse is going to get worse. “It is a problem that … will only continue to grow bigger,” he said.

If you’re concerned about an elder who might be victim of financial abuse or are aware of a crime, take the following steps:

  • Contact your state adult protective services agency (you can call 800-677-1116 or see this page for more specific information)
  • Call the police
  • Search this directory of services for crime victims to get support for the victim.

 

11 comments

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

Mickey Rooney has everyone focused on reporting elder abuse. What do you do when the authorities that are suppose to protect the elderly such as: local law enforcement, County Sheriff, County District Attorney, Adult Protective Services, Long Term Care Ombudsman, Community Care Licensing, State Attorney General and FBI all ‘investigate’ and report back that “nothing out of the ordinary” happened and “no crime” occurred.

Yet in reality the front door of a elder is kicked in with the deadbolt splintering the door jam, victim is taken to senior housing where intruders knowingly lie to management about the victim’s background, provide a 24 x 7 care provider (aka guard) move a million dollars in cash into new accounts with new ownership and beneficiaries, prepare new and radically different financial planning documents, move victim to assisted living facility and then prevent living together mate, children, siblings, nieces and nephews from having visitation and drastically restricted phone contact.

None of the investigators have talked to the ‘family’. More amazing is the ‘story’ of the intruders changes frequently and that doesn’t bother anyone.

Licensing files are full of complaints about elders not being allowed visitors, which is required by both state and federal law, yet these are repeatedly determined to not be a violation. There are multiple complaints about beds in direct contact with the floor, another violation that the investigators claim is ok.

Granny-napping is easy, profitable, and without any negative consequences. Until the existing laws are enforced so that there are negative consequences elder abuse will continue to thrive even after reporting.

So after reporting and nothing happens what is the next step?

Posted by icare_dou | Report as abusive

ANd now we have the Republican Congress putting the nail in the coffin with the Ryan plan to eliminate Medicare and privatize Social Security.

Posted by seattlesh | Report as abusive

seattlesh,

Really?!. The last time I checked, Congress was split with the Democrats in control of the Senate and the Republicans in control of the House. Also, you apparently don’t have a problem w/Obamacare stealing half-a-trillion dollars from Medicare.

The ‘Ryan plan’ Would tax the wealthy more for less benefits and wouldn’t affect anyone over 55 currently in the system for medicare OR social security. NOTHING would be privatized. Might want to doublecheck your ‘facts’ next time before getting on your soapbox.

Lastly, get a towel, dry your obviously damp head and find somewhere else to troll. Have a nice day.

Posted by murzak | Report as abusive

People that bilk the elderly out of money are the literal bottom of the barrel. Complete and utter scum.

The GOP plan will just mean seniors will have to pay more in healthcare costs. So they’re still going to lose money, just perhaps to a corporation rather than their crooked kids.

Posted by Adam_S | Report as abusive

murzak,

First of all its not called Obamacare. The Health care package in no way takes money directly from Medicare, Medicaid, or any other government run health scheme. The plan simplifies the governmental payout system and lowers costs created by all the red tape in existence. Please verify your facts and sources and never watch FOX or MSNBC. Finally, the entire system of Medicare would be privatized and subsidized by the Federal Government, and remaining health programs would be given to the broke states in the form of block grants. It is very simply put that you are wrong and so is seattlesh.

Posted by TECla | Report as abusive

We are a society that worships youth, we treat the elderly like obsolete burdens rather than vessels of wisdom! Rare is the family that cares for and loves their old folks, a practice that often prevents elder abuse.

Posted by Marla | Report as abusive

Well, when the family has one very wealthy person, like the old man, and he doesn’t give it up like maybe should, and he spends his whole making excuses for his greed and his lack of concern for the financial status of his family, over time it becomes obvious that he is competing directly with people whom he probably says he loves and supports, etc., and so when he’s old and feeble and sensitive and vulnerable, well, lots of those family members may just show him how strong he’s not, and he won’t like it and he’ll claim abuse, but really it’s all a product of his own lies and deception, because he should have been taking care of that family rather than playing lord with the money, and he should have realized that the money was the only power he had sometimes, and he could have made people feel better, and he could have helped others rather than keeping the money, and maybe throwing away on hookers and other fetish purchases; he could have been more responsible rather than infuriating his family. Obviously in other cases, perfect strangers prey on the elderly, and those are inexcusable, but issues within the family related to money are often very complicated and as we know well parents often beat and abuse their children only to be repaid that abuse later in life, and until we get a reign on child abuse, “intimidation” of the wealthy elderly family members may not be the most appalling issue of the day. However, the other cases which are merely fraud, are clearly a problem that should be handled entirely.

Posted by adamt78 | Report as abusive

@murzak Nothing would be privatized? Maybe you have a different definition of privatization. Under the Ryan plan you’d be given a measly voucher that you’d then have to give to a private insurer. Those seniors who are under 55 today would on average in the year 2030 have to pay more than half of their income out of pocket to get a plan similar to Medicare from private insurers. There’s a pretty big difference between the $500 billion in limits to future growth that you are referring to and the Ryan plan, which would end Medicare as we know it. That’s what the CBO says about the Ryan plan. For all the concern Republicans had about the ACA cuts, you’d think they’d be outraged by their colleague’s plan, right?

Posted by vhistory | Report as abusive

While I completely feel for the victims of such crimes and believe that action should be taken – what I dont understand are the comments about how the youth abuse the elderly. This same elderly generation of Americans has gone through the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s living irresponsibly compared to the WWII generation. They have borrowed, spent and divorced. They have overseen an environment where their generation is the first one to give their kids a worse standard of living. They spend so much on extending the last years of their life that it comprimises the largest single spend in healthcare.

I feel sorry for the people in the article but all in all this current batch of seniors in their 60’s to 80’s are the most selfish Americans ever. And they get tremendous amounts of benefits that they do not deserve.

Posted by John2244 | Report as abusive

There’s little worse than abuse against the elderly. What’s more, elderly abuse and crimes against the elderly only appear to be rising in rate. I work for a company called Guardly that is determined to end abuse against the elderly. ds and authorities during an emergency and helps them locate, respond to and reach you faster than any other service. It’s location-aware and also allows you to send pictures to a secure server as evidence to deter potential assailants.

More information at: http://guardly.com
Download Guardly in the App Store at: http://itunes.apple.com/ca/app/guardly/i d400742014?mt=8

Posted by LucasDS | Report as abusive

Obviously you are the “youth” whom doesn’t understand the abuse. Some day you will. As to the generation who is “the most selfish Americans ever”, you apparently are totally out of touch with reality. The greed that has consumed this country where wall street along with the blessings of our federal government has virtually broke this country is where you need to point ur finger. In a country where the economy is driven by companies increased profits annually without regard for the people whom do the work will eventually do us in.
To actually think a individual is actually worth 10’s of millions of dollars in pay and stock option because he/she is a CEO or President is ridiculous. GREED is consuming this country and yes the elderly are being abused. It will be our downfall as a once great country.

Posted by Vol | Report as abusive

[…] than one in ten older adults will be victims of some form of elder abuse, with a collective loss of almost $3 billion a […]

Posted by The Shame of Elder Abuse and the Silence of Washington – NYC Elder Abuse Center | Report as abusive

[…] more than one in ten older adults will be victims of some form of elder abuse, with a collective loss of almost $3 billion a […]

Posted by Elder Abuse Never Takes A Holiday | uwfcenteronaging | Report as abusive