Unfortunately, financial exploitation of older adults is a serious and all-too-common problem. As I mentioned in a previous Caregiver Chronicle article, senior citizens are at a higher risk than the regular population of being taken advantage of financially. A study published recently in the Journal of General Internal Medicine revealed some troubling statistics about the abuse of the elderly.

Researchers interviewed more than 4,000 adults over the age of 60 living in New York. They found that:

  • As many as one in 20 older adults in the U.S. may be financially exploited.
  • Most older adults have had their money or property stolen or used improperly at some point.
  • Roughly 80 percent of those interviewed had money or property stolen or misused over the past year.
  • Victim’s children were responsible for the financial abuse about 60 percent of the time, with neighbors and friends being responsible 17 percent of the time and paid home aides 15 percent of the time.
  • Often, victims were living in some sort of care setting without their spouse.
  • Those needing the most help maintaining their independence were particularly at risk for financial abuse.

There are many ways the elderly can be financially exploited. In some of the cases in the study, older people were forced or tricked into giving up their rights or property; others were forced or misled into signing or making changed to a legal document. This financial abuse of older Americans can have negative consequences that extend beyond an individual case.

“In addition to robbing older adults of resources, dignity and quality of life, it is likely costing our society dearly in the form of entitlement encumbrances, health care and other costs,” said Janey Peterson of Weill Cornell Medical College in a journal news release.

Since financial exploitation and abuse is the most common form of elder abuse, these disturbing figures need to serve as a wake-up call for doctors, policy makers and caregivers, the study concluded.

Financial exploitation covers a broad spectrum of abuses. Oftentimes, more vulnerable senior citizens fall victim to exploitation, and most often the perpetrators are family members or people the victim trusts. The elderly are common targets for financial abuse since, although people over 50 control nearly 70 percent of America’s wealth, many seniors don’t realize the value of their assets. Additionally, older adults are more likely to be dependent on others who could take advantage of the senior’s trust.

Whether you are a caregiver, the loved one of an elderly person at risk of abuse, or a senior citizen yourself, you should make sure to educate yourself about financial exploitation. The more you know and understand about the potential risks, the harder exploitation will be.

The Florida Department of Elder Affairs is committed to ensuring the safety and well-being of elders here. Working with the Department of Children and Families (DCF) Adult Protective Services and the Aging Network, it protects disabled adults or elderly persons from abuse, neglect or exploitation. Services provided may include protective supervision, placement and in-home and community-based services. To report elder abuse in Florida call 1-800-96-ABUSE (1-800-962-2873) or go online to www.elderaffairs.state.fl.us/doea/report_abuse.php.

Locally, exploitation can be reported to the Gainesville Police Department at (352) 334-2400 or the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office at (352) 367-4000. Of course if it is an emergency, call 911.

By Sam Boone

Sam W. Boone, Jr. is a Gainesville-based attorney practicing elder law and estate planning. He is past-president of the Academy of Florida Elder Law Attorneys. To learn more about elder-law issues, go online to http://www.boonelaw.com, or call (352)-374-8308.

Editor’s Note: This is part of a series of columns that will be presented in this newsletter by Sam W. Boone, Jr., a local attorney whose primary practice areas include elder law, estate planning, probate and trust administration. It is hoped that the information will be valuable for caregivers and family members dealing with issues related to elder law.

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