Financial abuse of the elderly has become a much more prevalent problem over recent decades. Simply put, this has happened because senior citizens are where the money is. The elderly often have more accumulated wealth then younger individuals, assets saved over the years in preparation for retirement or otherwise. This fact, when combined with “the estimate that people who make it past the age of 85 suffer about a 50 percent chance of suffering from a significant cognitive decline like Alzheimer’s (Olen, 2015)” helps to explain this growing problem.
Many senior citizens are unaware they are being taken advantage of or abused – especially when it comes at the hands of someone they know. Author Helaine Olen compared monetary abuse of the elderly to date rape, noting that, “Monetary abuse of the elderly is, in some ways, the financial equivalent of date rape, often leaving victims shamed, embarrassed, and blaming themselves for their own victimization – and, as a result, unlikely to come forward. Others aren’t even aware anything is wrong, or that what happened to them was illegal.”
The combination of this embarrassment and confusion and the fact that these frauds or thefts are often committed by those closest to the elderly, such as paid or family caretakers or trusted advisers, means these monetary abuse cases often go unreported.
This underreporting makes quantifying the total frequency and scope of financial abuse of the elderly difficult. Some estimate, such as a recent one from, True Link, a company specializing in protecting seniors from fraud, predicts that men and women over the age of 65 lose $36.48 billion annually to financial abuse. On the far lower end, the MetLife Mature Market Institute, estimated that in 2011 the elderly had $2.9 billion wrongfully taken from them each year. A more accurate number likely falls somewhere in the middle, but whether we are talking about billions or tens of billions, it remains a significant problem.
Although authorities are presumably always attempting to put a stop financial crimes – whether they involve seniors or not – the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is taking a more proactive approach by “attempting to educate seniors and their caretakers about what they need to look out for when managing their funds (Olen, 2015).” Hopefully through continued education and stricter monitoring by state and federal authorities, we can start to stem the tide of financial misdeeds perpetrated against those most vulnerable.