Unreported Crimes

Financial exploitation of elders is broadly defined as the illegal or improper use of the funds, property, or assets of people 60 and older. In the New York survey, 4.2 percent of older people surveyed said that they’d been exploited by family members or others. In a national study from 2009, 5.2 percent of older Americans said they’d been victimized by family members, and 6.5 percent said they’d been exploited by others. A seminal national study by the MetLife Mature Market Institute found that the cost of such abuses is at least $2.9 billion a year. Yet John Migliaccio, the institute’s director of research and gerontology, acknowledges that the study’s methodology—pulling from compiled news reports of abuse—underestimates the crime’s true price. “What we’re seeing is a tip of the iceberg,” he says.


Nevertheless, the study reports some startling facts: In 107 cases, seniors lost an average of more than $145,000 from fraud committed by family, friends, caregivers, and neighbors. In 159 cases involving fraud by strangers, the average loss was more than $95,000.

Studies of investment abuses tell similar stories. In a survey last year of about 2,600 financial planners by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, 56 percent said they knew older clients who had been subject to unfair, deceptive, or abusive practices. Among reported cases, the average loss estimate was $140,500; the median was $50,000. Only a quarter of surveyed CFPs said the crimes’ perpetrators rarely or never knew the victim.


Law-enforcement and social-services professionals see exploitation rising sharply. Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin’s office opened 128 financial-elder-abuse cases in 2011, a 40 percent rise from 2010. Paul Greenwood, a deputy district attorney in San Diego and head of the county’s elder-abuse protection unit, says the office will prosecute about 200 cases this year. “I’ve never been busier,” he says.


Better reporting contributes to that growth, Greenwood says. So does the flat economy. “As people become more desperate from the economy, they need that extra money,” says Sally Smith, adult protective services case manager supervisor at the Franklin County (Ohio) Office on Aging.