Elder Financial Abuse is Common - And Preventable
The financial exploitation and abuse of elderly adults is more common than most Ohioans know.
According to an Ohio Credit Union League 2019 consumer survey, 67 percent of Ohioans say they’ve never known an elderly person who has been the victim of some kind of elderly abuse, said Mirjana Zovkic, operations manager of Eaton Family Credit Union.
Elder abuse refers to any knowing, intentional or negligent act by a caregiver or any other person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult, Zovkic said, citing the U.S. Administration for Community Living.
The National Adult Protective Services Association’s recent study found one in nine elder adults reported being abused, neglected, or exploited in the past year. Financial exploitation was a particularly prevalent form of elder abuse, with one in 20 older adults indicating they had been in some way financially mistreated in the recent past.
Zokvic said this statistic likely is just the tip of the iceberg.
The Ohio Department of Aging said 16,000 reports of abuse, neglect, and exploitation are made each year in Ohio. However, according to the National Institutes of Health, these reports represent only one in 14 cases, and the National Adult Protective Services Association found only one in 44 cases of financial abuse is ever reported.
Many cases stay under the radar because the victim is hesitant to get their perpetrators into trouble, Zovkic said.
The Ohio Credit Union League’s study also found 84 percent of respondents believe family members and close friends are the people most responsible for protecting the elderly from financial abuse. “This belief may perpetuate a dangerous trend,” Zovkic said because, according to the National Adult Protective Services Association, 90 percent of abusers and exploiters are the very family members and caretakers entrusted to care for the victim.
“Financial institutions, especially credit unions like ours which is close to our members and communities, are a key defense to elderly abuse by reporting suspicious activity reports for potential elderly exploitation.”
Zovkic offered these tips for preventing elder financial abuse:
Keep in contact. According to AARP, it’s easier for criminals to step in and befriend elderly people when they’re lonely. Be sure to call and visit elderly friends and family members frequently. Establish yourself as a trustworthy presence for them to lean on if they find themselves worried or in trouble.
Remain vigilant. Keep an eye on the financial habits of your elderly friends and family members. Take note of large withdrawals, unusual requests for money or alarming lapses in memory about major financial transactions. Remember that you don’t have to prove financial exploitation to report it. Your suspicion is enough.
Know your elderly relatives’ acquaintances. Make sure you are becoming acquainted with the people interacting with your elderly friend or relative. It may also be helpful to know the nature of these interactions. Keep a close eye on anybody you don’t know well and track suspicious behavior in acquaintances—and family members.
Have difficult conversations. It may be uncomfortable to ask an older relative about financial matters, especially if they’ve always been financially independent in the past. It might be equally difficult to approach a trusted relative about suspicious behavior toward an elderly acquaintance. While these issues might be sensitive, it’s important they’re brought to light, just in case.
Get professional help. A lawyer can work with elders to establish trusts and other financial arrangements that are difficult for criminals to breach, according to Money Crashers. Lawyers can also recommend mediators and counselors who can work with families experiencing tensions over the finances of an elderly relative.
Dave Godek, MBA
Business Development Manager
Eaton Family Credit Union