A new report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)—the government agency charged with enforcing federal consumer financial laws—sheds light on the widespread problem of elder financial abuse.
Studies show that financial exploitation is the most common form of elder abuse. Perpetrators can include a wide variety of people ranging from close family members to offshore scammers, and estimates of annual losses to older adults have ranged from $2.9 billion to $36.5 billion.
Financial institutions are uniquely positioned to prevent and respond to elder financial exploitation. They often come in contact with victims and perpetrators, know their customers personally, and have the opportunity to observe how funds move from the older person to the perpetrator.
In 2013, the federal government began requiring banks, credit unions, and other financial services providers to report suspicious activities targeting older adults. Since then, over 180,000 events totaling more than $6 billion have been reported. The CFPB’s report—the first-ever public analysis of these Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs)—identifies key trends and patterns, offering a chance to better understand elder fraud and to find ways to improve prevention and response.
Among the Key Findings:
Elder Financial Exploitation Is Widespread, yet Underreported. While SAR filings on elder financial exploitation quadrupled from 2013 to 2017, these reports do not capture the full scope of the problem. Based on recent prevalence studies, these reports likely represent a tiny fraction of actual incidents of elder financial exploitation.
The Financial Consequences for Older Adults are Significant. The average amount an older adult lost was $34,200. It was even higher when the older adult knew the suspect ($50,000). One third of the individuals who lost money were aged 80 or older, and adults ages 70 to 79 had the highest average monetary loss ($45,300).
Money Transfers and Bank Accounts are Common Targets. More than half of the reported events involved a money transfer and an average loss of $32,800. 44% of scams involved a checking or savings account, and these events had the highest average monetary losses ($48,300). The suspicious activity reported took place, on average, over a four-month period.
Financial Institutions are Not Reporting Elder Financial Exploitation to Law Enforcement or Adult Protective Services. Fewer than one third of reports indicated that the financial institution reported the suspicious activity to a local, state, or federal authority.
This study provides new insights into the dimensions and nature of financial exploitation of older adults and the responses of financial institutions when they see it. Financial institutions, law enforcement, social service agencies, and policymakers at the local, state, and federal level can use these detailed findings to strengthen efforts to prevent, detect, and respond to this major threat to the financial security of older adults.
If you believe that you or someone you know is a victim of financial exploitation, contact your local adult protective services (APS) agency. You can find out how to reach your APS office from the Eldercare Locator at eldercare.acl.gov or by calling 1-800-677-1116. You can also report scams or fraud to the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov/complaint.
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