Senior citizens lose an estimated $2.9 billion a year to financial abuse, an increase of 12 percent from 2008, according to a study released this month by MetLife.
Most victims are between the ages of 80 and 89, live alone and depend on others for assistance with health care or home maintenance, according to the MetLife Mature Market Institute. Women are nearly twice as likely as men to be victims of elder 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,” said Sandy Timmermann, director of the institute.
More than one-third of the crimes (34 percent) involve friends and families, whose predatory activities peak during the holidays. Trusted helpers, such as caretakers, handymen, friends, “sweethearts,” children and lawyers, exploit opportunities to “forge checks, steal credit cards, pilfer bank accounts, transfer assets and generally decimate elders’ financial safety nets,” said the study, co-produced with the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the Center for Gerontology at Virginia Tech.
More than half the cases (51 percent) involve a stranger who is likely to be a man between the ages of 30 to 59. Exploitation from the business sector accounted for 12 percent of reported cases, and Medicare and Medicaid fraud accounts for 4 percent.
The data for “The MetLife Study of Elder Financial Abuse: Crimes of Occasion, Desperation, and Predation Against America’s Elders,” was gleaned from media reports of crimes against the elderly. The most common scenarios involved strangers who targeted senior citizens who were out shopping, driving or managing their finances. Perpetrators often looked for “particular flags of vulnerability, like handicap tags on cars, walking canes or the display of confusion,” the study said.
“In almost all instances, financial exploitation is achieved through deceit, threats and emotional manipulation of an elder,” Timmermann said. “In addition to this psychological mistreatment, physical and sexual violence frequently accompany the greed and disregard of financial abuse.”
A consumer guide available from MetLife offers tips to avoid becoming a victim of financial elder abuse. Advice includes:
Avoid isolation, which can lead to loneliness, sadness and depression, and also increase the possibility of abuse. Seniors are advised to stay social and active, and keep in touch with family members.
Be wary of family members or caregivers who may have problems with substance abuse or financial issues.
Keep legal and financial documents in a safe place. Safe guard personal information and passwords.
Be wary of people who ask you to change your will, or add their names to your bank accounts or property titles.
Be wary of telephone solicitations, and internet and mail scams.
High-pressure sales tactics can be a sign of fraud. Discuss any significant financial decisions with a trusted person before making up your mind.