Financial exploitation crosses racial, ethnic and economic lines and has no limitations. A victim’s life is upended when a trusted person, family member, caregiver, professional or smooth talker, steals an elder’s money or property. The money or property is rarely returned and restitution is unlikely. The loss puts an elderly victim’s financial stability and peace of mind at risk. It often results in loss of independence, decreased health, and psychological distress and may result in the inability to give family or friends specially set aside monies or small family treasures. Victims repeatedly say that the loss of trust is often irreplaceable and has devastating personal and psychological consequences. The loss culminates in a diminished quality of life for the victim.
Persons 65 and older possess a large proportion of the nation’s wealth, controlling 70% of all funds deposited in financial institutions and over $7 trillion in invested assets. It is estimated that over $18 trillion will move between generations in the next 20 years. The Stanford Center on Longevity recently projected that fraud losses range between $50-$100 billion per year and has called for much needed data collection and research to build a clearer picture of financial exploitation. It was estimated that older adults in the U.S. lost over $2.9 billion to fraud in 2011; that number has likely grown as the older population has increased. Often, feelings of shame, embarrassment, and helplessness can be overwhelming and silence the victim.
Various vulnerabilities, including living far from families and friends and the increasing prevalence of Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia place older adults at higher risk of exploitation. For example, consumer fraud may be related to mild cognitive impairment or dementia, theft by family members may be related to misappropriation of trust, and investment fraud may be related to concerns about financial sufficiency during retirement. Sometimes older adults may think that a quick $1million won in a sweepstakes or lottery will allow them the freedom and independence they desire. Clearly, financial exploitation is a multi-dimensional problem that requires simultaneous consideration of personal, relationships, environmental and societal causes.
The Older Americans Act programs have historically been the keystone of federal assistance to older Americans through their close relationships with the State Tribal and local Area Agencies on Aging. The Older Americans Act provides funding to the states for training, outreach and direct services. In addition to state agencies, Adult Protective Services (APS) remain the early responders to calls about elder abuse and exploitation.
However, an effective national response to elder abuse and financial exploitation cannot be fashioned without first collecting data. Unlike child abuse and domestic violence, where data collected for decades informed and shaped more effective prevention responses, APS programs and administrators lack reliable information and guidance on best practices they need to effectively respond to reported cases of elder abuse. Stronger responses from law enforcement and prosecutors nationwide would help reduce repeated abuse and exploitation. Data from all these areas will help draw a clearer picture of elder abuse and exploitation in this country and will help frame the most effective responses.
The Elder Justice Coordinating Council (EJCC), established under the Elder Justice Act of 2009 was convened in the fall of 2012. This interagency collaboration led by HHS and the Department of Justice (DOJ) has adopted Eight Recommendations suggesting ways to improve awareness, prevention, and intervention of elder abuse, and to improve responses to elder abuse, neglect and exploitation. Combating elder financial exploitation, including that by fiduciaries, was a key recommendation, as was the recommendation to collect standardized data to establish a set of core standards and best practices. The recommendations may be found at http://www.aoa.gov/AoARoot/AoA_Programs/Elder_Rights/EJCC/index.aspx.
Given the widespread health, legal, social and economic implications of elder abuse, DOJ and HHS sponsored the Elder Justice Roadmap Project and Report. The Roadmap Project sought the input of experts and stakeholders from across the country in order to develop a strategic plan -- by the field and for the field – to combat elder abuse, neglect and financial exploitation. The report identifies and prioritizes actions that direct service providers, educators, and researchers can take to benefit older adults facing abuse, neglect or exploitation. Likewise, it provides a roadmap for strategic investment and engagement by policymakers in both the public and private sectors to advance our collective efforts to prevent and combat elder abuse, neglect and financial exploitation at the local, state and national levels. The Roadmap Project has already informed initial steps taken by both the federal EJCC as well as private entities. As the Roadmap Report points out, financial exploitation causes large economic losses for businesses, families, elders and government programs of all sorts, particularly increasing reliance on federal health care programs such as Medicaid. The Elder Justice Roadmap Report and accompanying materials can be found at the National Center on Elder Abuse website (www.ncea.aoa.gov).
Elders have worked and saved all their lives to have a good life in old age. Living longer with assets also makes them targets for elder abuse and financial exploitation where they can lose everything, interrupting, often permanently, that good life. Almost everyone knows a victim of elder abuse or financial exploitation. We need to work together to talk about elder abuse and financial exploitation, to raise awareness of this issue, and help all of our elder population enjoy a rich and safe long life.
About the author
Kathy Greenlee serves in the dual roles of Administrator of the Administration for Community Living (ACL) and Assistant Secretary for Aging. ACL operates within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)and brings together into a single entity the Administration on Aging, the Office on Disability, and the Administration on Developmental Disabilities. Ms. Greenlee was appointed by President Obama as Assistant Secretary for Aging at HHS and confirmed by the Senate in June 2009.
Kathy Greenlee served as Secretary of Aging in Kansas, and before that as the Kansas State Long Term Care Ombudsman. She also served as the General Counsel of the Kansas Insurance Department and served as Chief of Staff and Chief of Operations for then-Governor Kathleen Sebelius. Ms. Greenlee is a graduate of the University of Kansas with degrees in business administration and law.