On February 4, 2015, the Senate Special Committee on Aging highlighted an important issue affecting seniors. The financial exploitation of seniors is a growing epidemic that puts seniors in very dangerous situations. Up to 1 in 5 seniors will face some form of financial exploitation in their lifetime, and the effects can be life-altering. Many seniors lose their homes or health care due to fraud, and many of them never see justice. Until this point, the issue has not been addressed on such a large scale.
Elder abuse is a dangerous crime that has gotten worse with the technological advances of modern day. In fact, the National Council on Aging has named elder abuse the “crime of the 21st century.” Financial exploitation and scamming are the most common forms of this type of abuse, and unfortunately, it’s usually done at the hands of family members. Over 90% of reported cases are committed by a relative.
The most common victims are seniors with cognitive impairments, including dementia or Alzheimer’s. Scammers usually trick the victim into wiring money or releasing financial information to them via phone or email. Alzheimer’s is rapidly spreading, expected to affect 16 million people in the next 40 years. This high number means many people are in the group that is particularly vulnerable to this type of financial exploitation.
One testimony, delivered to the Senate by Philip Marshall, a man representing his late grandmother, attempted to explain why most seniors do not get the legal help they need. One explanation is that people are often hesitant to turn family members in, for fear of getting them in trouble. Another explanation is the financial component of finding legal representation. Marshall explains that many states offer some form of legal aid to seniors, and that it should be made a priority for senior care providers to be made aware of the resources available in these kinds of cases. Many seniors turn to senior living facilities when faced with these issues, and providers should be knowledgeable and as helpful as possible.
The hearing before the Senate Special Committee on Aging was an important first step in combatting an issue that is affecting far too many people. Senator Susan Collins explained that financial exploitation cost seniors $2.9 billion in 2010, and that there are instances when seniors do need help from family members to manage their finances, but that abuse is illegal and malicious. Senator Claire McCaskill highlighted the importance of having highly trained professionals available to seniors at all levels of the justice system. She also argued that fighting the financial exploitation of seniors should not be left up to the states, and that it is something the federal government can do a lot about.
ALFA President James Balda issued a report expressing the organization’s support of the hearing. Read his full remarks.
Claire McCaskill. Broken trust: Combating financial exploitation targeting vulnerable seniors
NYC Elder Abuse Center. Lessons from the Astor elder abuse case
Susan Collins. Broken trust: Combating financial exploitation targeting vulnerable seniors
U.S. Senate. Senate Aging Committee to examine financial exploitation of seniors