For Many Aging Americans, Home is Where the Fraud Is

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A new, nationwide analysis of elder abuse trends has led to the surprising conclusion that financial fraud most often happens at home—not in public or online. Consequently, such crimes aren't committed by strangers as often as they are by family members (58 percent of scams) or friends (17 percent of scams). These results shed new light on the most common (and costly) form of elder abuse: financial exploitation.

"If a new disease entity were discovered that afflicted nearly one in 20 adults over their older lifetimes and differentially struck our most vulnerable subpopulations, a public health crisis would likely be declared," say study authors from Weil Cornell Medical College. In an article in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, researchers claim their findings illustrate that "financial exploitation of older adults is such a phenomenon."

After surveying more than 4,000 New Yorkers 60 years and older, researchers discovered that financial fraud ran the gamut—from outright theft of money and property, to convincing an older individual to alter important legal documents (such as deeds and titles), to adult family members living rent-free in an aging person's house.

"When I ask him [my grandson] to go to the ATM for me, he gives me what I asked for but also takes out some for himself. I called the bank and was able to confirm this was happening," laments one survey respondent.

"My adult daughter changed my lease and tried to take over my apartment and stole money from me," claims another.

After a person reaches age 60, money-motivated crimes don't appear to increase in frequency based on age alone. But other factors play a role in upping an older adult's risk for fraud. African-American adults who live below the poverty line and people who had trouble performing one or more Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (e.g. shopping, meal preparation, housekeeping) were more likely to be the victims of scams.

"Somewhat counterintuitively, it was not those with the greatest resources who were most likely to be financially exploited, but those with the least," say study authors, who attributed their findings to the fact that individuals with dwindling finances are more likely to share a home with other relatives who could potentially become scammers, and that relying on others for help with shopping and banking makes it easier for fraudsters in the family to perpetrate their crimes.

Learn more about how to protect you loved one by checking out these tips on How to Prevent the Elderly from Becoming Scam Victims.

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