June 15th is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD). In the United States alone, there are approximately 5 million cases of elder abuse, neglect, or exploitation reported each year. Unfortunately, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse, experts estimate that there may be over 20 times as many cases that go unreported.
Among the many forms of elder abuse, the most prevalent by far is financial elder abuse.
“Seniors face a unique set of risks, especially where financial abuse is concerned,” says MMI spokesperson and Vice President of Education and Community Relations Jo Kerstetter. “Many have accumulated wealth, but may lack the experience or knowledge necessary to confidently manage that wealth on their own, leading them to rely on others. This is especially true if they are a widower or widow who didn’t regularly manage the family finances before the loss of a spouse. Seniors are also more likely to have a disability or dependency that makes them more vulnerable to exploitation.”
Who is at risk?
According to the 2010 Investor Protection Trust Elder Fraud Survey, one in five Americans over 65 have been a victim of financial abuse. The issue is widespread and crosses numerous demographics, but there are a few factors that may place certain individuals at higher risk than others.
Per the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, a senior may be at greater risk if they:
- Live primarily in isolation
- Experience persistent loneliness
- Recently lost a loved one
- Suffer from physical or mental disabilities
- Are uncomfortable or inexperienced with financial matters
Sadly, the majority of financial exploitation or fraud committed against the elderly is perpetrated by family members. Relatives who are unemployed, facing dire financial straits, or suffer from addiction have been known to prey on elderly family members.
Financial exploitation and abuse can take many forms, from using money and property without permission, to theft, to manipulation and coercion. Such crimes can be as simple as overcharging for goods to forging signatures on legal documents. Some of the more common signs that financial elder abuse has occurred may include:
- Bank account withdrawals and charges the victim cannot explain
- Unpaid/overdue bills, despite the victim seemingly having sufficient funds
- Ongoing financial arrangements that the victim does not understand or recall agreeing to
- Missing property
- Potentially forged signatures on checks and other financial documents
If you suspect that you or someone you know has been the victim of financial elder abuse, don’t hesitate to contact your local police department. Additionally, you can use the ElderCare Locator at ElderCare.gov to find appropriate resources in your community.
“Ultimately, the first line of defense against financial fraud is education,” says Kerstetter. “The better equipped we are to manage our personal finances, the less reliant we become on advisors and caregivers who may or may not have our best interests at heart.”
MMI is proud to offer a variety of programs and services geared towards improving the financial wellness and stability of seniors. In addition to financial workshops, webinars, eBooks, and educational articles, MMI also offers reverse mortgage (or HECM) counseling.
Every day, an average of 10,000 Americans turn 65 years old. If you aren’t confident managing your money, there’s always time to learn. And if you need one-on-one assistance, we offer a wide range of financial counseling services to help take control of your money.