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,” released today from the MetLife Mature Market Institute.
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). Exploitation from the business sector accounted for 12 percent of reported cases. Medicare and Medicaid fraud represented four percent of reported cases. Robberies and crimes classified as “scams perpetrated by strangers” increased from nine percent to 28 percent from 2008 to 2010.
“In almost all instances, financial exploitation is achieved through deceit, threats and emotional manipulation of an elder,” said Sandra Timmermann, EdD, director of the MetLife Mature Market Institute. “In addition to this psychological mistreatment, physical and sexual violence frequently accompany the greed and disregard of financial abuse.”
Other major findings from the study, which was produced in collaboration with the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (NCPEA) and the Center for Gerontology at Virginia Tech, include:
• Women were nearly twice as likely to be victims of elder financial abuse as men.
• Most victims were between the ages of 80 and 89, lived alone and required some help with either healthcare or home maintenance.
• Nearly 60% of perpetrators were males, mostly between ages 30 and 59.
• Victims were particularly vulnerable during the holidays when overall dollar losses due to family and friends were higher than any other category.
Data for the study was compiled through a media database of news articles on elder financial abuse gathered from April through June 2010 via the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) newsfeed. The tracking identified 389 unduplicated articles on elder financial abuse. An additional 354 cases were identified in the newsfeed database between November 2010 and January 2011 and were analyzed to study patterns during the holiday period. Academic journals were also reviewed; from 2008 through 2010, 35 unduplicated, peer-reviewed articles addressing elder financial abuse were identified.
Crimes included cons, purse snatchings and associated physical assaults. In cases involving a person known to the victim, trusted helpers like caretakers and family members forged checks, stole credit cards, emptied bank accounts, transferred assets and generally eliminated elders' financial safety nets.
Tip sheet: “Preventing Elder Financial Abuse” (PDF format)