Elder Financial Abuse May Impact Nearly 20% of Seniors: Report

One out of every five Americans over the age of 65 have been victims of investment fraud or financial exploitation, according to the findings of a new survey that has led to calls for doctors and family members to help prevent and identify instances of elder financial abuse

The Investor Protection Trust (IPT) released a report (PDF) this week, which estimates that nearly seven million seniors have been taken advantage of financially through an inappropriate investment, unreasonably high fees for financial services, or fraudulent schemes.

The research identified several common vulnerabilities and warning signs among elderly individuals who have been financially exploited, suggesting that physicians and children of seniors can play a significant role in protecting them from fraud.

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The survey was conducted by Public Policy Polling (PPP) for IPT, which interviewed 2,257 seniors over the age of 65 and 703 adults with senior parents. According to the findings, more than two out of every five, or 43%, of American seniors exhibited one or more of the common warning signs of current financial victimization, including inability to understand financial decisions someone else is making for them, trouble paying bills because they are confusing, allowing others to access bank accounts to make difficult financial transactions and several other scenarios that would leave the elderly vulnerable to fraud or exploitation.

The survey indicated that nearly 80% of American seniors over the age of 65 handle their own finances and do not have professional financial agencies or relatives assist in making day-to-day or major financial decisions.

Approximately 21 % of children reported that they do not believe their parents would tell them if they had been involved in some sort of financial fraud, due to being ashamed or embarrassed. Furthermore, 47% of children with parents over 65 stated it would “not be likely” that they would be able to help or figure out whether their parents had been taken advantage of by fraudulent practices.

“While it is still alarming to see that nearly one out of five older Americans have been victims of financial swindles, it is encouraging that doctors and adult children are more tuned into this problem,” President and CEO of IPT, Don Blandin, stated in a press release (PDF). “Doctors and the nurses who work with seniors are playing an important ‘first responder’ role in spotting older Americans who have been or are being victimized by investment fraud and other financial exploitation. State securities regulators and others are working with thousands of doctors nationwide to make sure that they learn the symptoms of this problem and what to prescribe in terms of help from the experts who are standing by to provide it.”

The IPT Elder Investment Fraud and Financial Exploitation (EIFFE) Prevention Program was developed by the Huffington Center on Aging at Baylor College of Medicine and the Texas Consortium Geriatric Education Center, and has since gained ties with 30 state securities offices to form a coalition to prevent elder investment fraud and financial exploitations. The nonprofit organization has since held 90 medical education events that have trained roughly 8,600 medical professionals to identify cognitive impairments in the elderly that would leave them more susceptible to fraud exposure.

The IPT recommends that seniors consult their doctors about potential decreasing cognitive functions and to be in contact with children and relatives about handing difficult financial decisions. Seniors who choose financial institutions to handle their finances should always research the quality of institutions prior to handing over financial privileges.

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