Financial exploitation of older Americans continues to be an often under-reported and misunderstood issue, despite receiving considerable media attention. And as the U.S. population ages and life expectancy rises, the problem is expected to get worse, a recent survey suggests.
Sampling a study of more than 2,000 Americans, comprised both of potential victims ages 65 and older and other adults between ages 40-64, Allianz LIfe Insurance Company of North America found that misconceptions persist about the most likely sources of abuse and the financial impact on its victims.
“Although past studies have explored elder financial abuse, it’s crucial to get a current picture to help determine how the financial services industry can best address this difficult yet preventable problem,” said Allianz Life President and CEO Walter White in a written statement.
Though the number of elders in Allianz’s “Safeguarding Our Seniors” survey who said they suffered financial abuse is relatively small—only 5%—the company suggests that number is likely an underestimate because some seniors might not self-identify or report abuse that befell them.
Considering projections that the senior population is expected to exceed 54 million by 2020, according to the U.S. Census Bureau in May, Allianz suggests that millions of American seniors could experience financial abuse as nearly one-in-five (19%) adults age 40-64 reported they have an older friend or family member who has been a victim in the past.
“As America’s population gets older, the number of seniors with age-related cognitive impairments naturally is expected to grow,” said White. “Greater awareness about the frequency of elder financial abuse will foster more discussion about ways to keep our seniors safe from financial exploitation.”
One of the main highlights in the “Safeguarding Our Elders” study is a lack of awareness of elder financial abuse. When surveyed where the biggest threats actually come from, 80% of elders and 69% of family/friends of potential victims rated telemarketing contact as the most likely source of exploitation.
Internet scams followed with 68% of elders and 47% of family/friends, while U.S. Mail solicitation was the top threat for 52% of elders and 39% of family/friends, according to Allianz data.
Consistent with previous studies that have suggested elder financial exploitation is commonly committed by people familiar to the victim, 52% of elders who did report financial abuse reported that the incident was more likely to have been perpetrated by a family member, friend or caregiver. Conversely, 22% said abuse was perpetrated by a stranger.
To address this issue that only has the potential to grow as the baby boomer population ages, Allianz has created programs and materials to educate financial professionals as well as consumer about elder financial abuse.
The Preventing Elder Financial Abuse education course assists professionals in the financial services field to understand the scope of exploitation and provide steps they can take to protect their clients. Another supplemental tool, the Preventing Elder Abuse Tip Sheet from Better Business Bureau, contains red flags to look for along with prevention tips.
“As demographic trends point to a growing senior population, more people than ever before will be affected by elder financial abuse,” said White. “Allianz Life is committed to taking a leadership role in educating financial professionals, the community and employees about how to prevent elder financial abuse and being a part of the solution.”
Written by Jason Oliva