Elder financial abuse costs older Americans more than $2.6 billion per year and is most often perpetrated by family members and caregivers, according to a new report released by the MetLife Mature Market Institute. The report, Broken Trust: Elders, Family and Finances, was produced in conjunction with the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. It points out that up to one million older Americans may be targeted yearly and that related costs such as health care, social services, investigations, legal fees, prosecution, lost income, and assets reach tens of millions of dollars annually. The study indicates that for each case of abuse reported, there are an estimated four or more that go unreported. Family members and caregivers are the culprits in 55 percent of cases; financial losses are higher with investment fraud scams. The National Adult Protective Services Association suggests that the “typical” victim of elder financial abuse is between the ages of 70 and 89, white, female, frail, and cognitively impaired. She is trusting of others and may be lonely or isolated, although reports show that there is a very diverse population of victims. Elder financial abuse has been called the “crime of the 21st century” and with the present state of the economy, older Americans are at a greater risk than ever of having their financial security threatened. Sandra Timmermann, Ed,D., director of the MetLife Mature Market Institute, says, “Sadly, family members and caregivers tend to financially exploit their elderly relatives more often than strangers. Community service providers and other professionals agree, however, that reported cases represent only the very ‘tip of the iceberg.’ Scholars and practitioners speculate that, like perpetrators of other types of elder abuse, family members who exploit their elders are dependent upon them financially and their actions may be influenced by other problems such as alcohol and drug abuse. In addition, some family members feel a sense of entitlement and believe that they have a right to the money and material goods their parents or older relatives have accumulated.” It is noted that elder financial abuse takes many forms, including, but not limited to, fraud (coupon, telemarketing, mail); repair and contracting scams; the so-called sweetheart scams; false/fraudulent advice from loan officers, stock brokers, insurance salespersons, and bank officials; undue influence; illegal viatical settlements; abuse of powers of attorney and guardianship; identity theft; Internet “phishing;” failure to fulfill contracted health care services; and Medicare and Medicaid fraud. The report states that the justice and social services systems are often inadequately trained, staffed, and funded in order to address elder financial abuse. Moreover, it is sometimes difficult to determine whether financial abuse occurred or if one unwittingly or knowingly made a poor financial decision. Underreporting is attributed to fear of government interference, parents protecting their children and family members; embarrassment and self-blame; a lack of realization that abuse has occurred; fear of being placed in a facility; fear of harm from the perpetrator; and a belief that nothing will be done or more money will be lost. Elder financial abuse can be prevented by the following: 1) education about one’s rights and about the various types of consumer fraud and scams; 2) financial conservatorship and/or power of attorney for those who are vulnerable; 3) assignment of responsibility to a trusted outside person, if children are a concern; 4) additional media attention for this issue; 5) training financial professionals to properly assist older customers; 6) Assistance from social services, medical/nursing personnel, government agencies; 7) reporting suspected cases of financial abuse to local authorities. and private-sector professionals (e.g., bankers, financial planners, insurance agents) who frequently interact with older adults. For a free copy of the study, including tip sheets for older adults and families on how to prevent such issues, call 203-221-6580, e-mail maturemarketinstitute@metlife.com, or download them from www.maturemarketinstitute.com.  

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