It’s a crime wave. In part owing to the rapid increase in the number of Americans over the age of 65, the fastest growing crime wave is elder financial abuse, and three of every five cases of elder financial abuse reported nation-wide are committed by a relative of the older victim. Nationally, Adult Protective Services agencies report that three out of five financial abuse cases they see involve family members taking advantage of older family members. It may be an adult child who rationalizes that taking money or other valuables is only fair because they are “helping” their older parent or that they would be inheriting it anyway. But it is still abuse, and it is still criminal.
Perhaps because more older women live on their own having survived a spouse, they are more often the victims of financial abuse than men, twice as often in fact. The national financial toll of this veritable abuse epidemic is staggering. A recent study by MetLife has estimated the annual cost of elder financial abuse approaches $3 billion. Part of this huge figure is the fact that as older adults age, they will have ultimately require Medicaid benefits in the form of nursing home care of in-home care. If their assets have already been plundered by a family member, then everyone who pays taxes is, in effect, picking up the tab for the scam.
There is hope. And there is help on the way. A number of organizations are stepping up to help better protect elders from financial abuse. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has issued a guide aimed at educating nursing care facility employees on the signs and symptoms of abuse. If you see something, say something! The American Bankers Association is partnering with AARP to better inform professionals in the finance sector on how to spot financial abuse. The first of these gets the word out to those who care for elders at a stage in life when they are most vulnerable. And since so much of this wave of financial abuse can happen through legitimate channels of finance, getting bankers to recognize the signs of family theft is spot on. Efforts such as these are all the more important, because there is no national law against elder financial abuse.
The State of Illinois is not alone in giving everyone a chance to be “their elder’s keeper.” There is an abuse hotline that will get the Illinois Department of Aging on the case if you suspect financial or other abuse. Share this number so that anyone who sees something can say something: 1/866-800-1409.
Charlotte Bishop is a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. Please email your questions to info@cr eativecaremanagement.com.