Senior Financial Exploitation: Understanding the Problem

December 27, 2014


In a recent article for Merrill Lynch, Cynthia. L. Hutchins outlined the growing problem of senior financial exploitation. “Senior Financial Exploitation: A Hidden Threat” is offered as Part 2 of the brokerage company’s Financial Gerontology Series.


Senior financial exploitation is fined as the manipulation of an older adult into transferring his or her assets to another person for that individual’s personal benefit. It is often done without the senior’s knowledge that victimization is even occurring.


It is understandable that a major brokerage firm would be concerned about protecting the assets of seniors and their families. As the number of baby boomers at retirement age rises, the problem of financial exploitation goes. Hutchins estimates that, by mid-century, 20% of the population will be over the age of 65, and 19 million over 85. Today, the annual cost to victims of senior financial exploitation is an estimated $2.9 billion, and that number will only grow unless public awareness increases.


 Who Is Most at Risk?

Those who are most at risk for senior financial exploitation include:

Women – females are twice as likely as males to be the victims of financial exploitation.

Elderly – most victims of senior financial exploitation are between the ages of 80 and 89.

Dependent – those who reside in long-term care facilities, are cognitive impaired, or otherwise reliant upon others to get their personal needs met are more vulnerable.

Isolated – Individuals who are widows, widowers, live alone, and/or are socially isolated are at higher risk for financial exploitation.


Financial Exploitation Close to Home

In one in three crimes of financial exploitation, the victim knows the perpetrator, such as a friend, neighbor, or family member. The type and style of victimization often depends upon how well a perpetrator knows a senior victim.


Some of the most typical types of financial abuse by family members or others close to the victim include coercion to obtain check or ATM withdrawals, financial abuse of powers of attorney, exploitation of joint bank accounts.


Trusted loved ones often extort funds from an older adult by threatening to withhold care, actually practicing neglect, or even threatening bodily harm. Such leverage makes the older individual particularly vulnerable and also less likely to report financial exploitation.


Stranger Danger

When strangers select victims for financial exploitation, they often use one of several sca