Who would pick the pocket of your grandma or grandpa? Apparently, any number of people. Older Americans are losing $2.9 billion annually to elder financial abuse, a 12% increase from the $2.6 billion estimated in 2008, according to The MetLife Study of Elder Financial Abuse: Crimes of Occasion, Desperation, and Predation Against America's Elders, released Wednesday.

According to the study, 51% of these abusers are strangers, but 34% of the perpetrators were family, friends and neighbors. As for "trusted advisers," exploitation from the business sector accounted for 12% of reported cases. Medicare and Medicaid fraud accounts for 4% of reported cases. As a subset, the percentage of robberies and crimes classified as "scams perpetrated by strangers" increased from 9% to 28% from 2008 to 2010.

Who's on the top of the target list? Women. The study, produced by the MetLife (MET) Mature Market Institute in collaboration with the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the Center for Gerontology at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, shows women were nearly twice as likely to be victims of elder financial abuse as men.

Also prime for the picking were people between the ages of 80 and 89 who lived alone and required some help with either health care or home maintenance. Primarily, men were the menace: Nearly 60% of perpetrators were males, mostly between ages 30 and 59.

Predators lie in wait, watching: In the most common scenarios, strangers targeted victims who were out shopping, driving or managing the financial affairs, and often looked for particular flags of vulnerability like handicapped tags on cars, canes or displays of confusion. Crimes included cons, purse snatchings and associated physical assaults.

But that even those closest to an elderly person can give in to temptation or desperation. In cases involving a person known to the victim, trusted helpers like caretakers, handymen, friends, "sweethearts," children, lawyers and others seized upon opportunities to forge checks, steal credit cards, pilfer bank accounts, transfer assets and generally decimate elders' finances, the study revealed. The holidays apparently bring out the worst in people: At that time of year, overall dollar losses due to family and friends were higher than any other category.

Married to the Con Job


People can get quite creative with abuse. One unusual method -- caregivers secretly marrying their elderly charges, says Susan Slater-Jansen, an attorney at Kurzman Eisenberg Corbin & Lever.

There have been numerous lawsuits over cases in which a caregiver married a mentally incapacitated older patient and the patient's family didn't learn about it until after the patient had died. Once a person is dead, it's too late -- in all but three states, you can't void a marriage if one spouse has died, says Slater-Jansen. To help lower the odds of such a thing happening to your parent, adult children should make sure they receive duplicate monthly statements from all bank and brokerage accounts; install nanny cams; carefully and thoroughly check references for all caregivers; visit parents often, both while the caregiver is there and when they are not; and discuss with your parents the treatment they are receiving from caregivers.

If you discover such a fraudulent marriage has taken place, act quickly to get it annulled.

After the parent dies, heirs can sue to recover money from the "spouse." More and more, courts have found ways to deny spouses if the marriage was fraudulent, says Slater-Jansen.

"The most flagrant abuse is perpetrated on the elder by the hired caregiver, neighbor, or 'new' friend," warns Karen Maarse Fitzgerald, a principal in her own elder law practice. "A simple power of attorney signed by the elder can give to the "agent" broad and sweeping powers over the elder's life savings. I have seen bank accounts drained within days, the money and perpetrator vanishing to another country."

Protection Yourself and Your Relatives


The worst forms of elder abuse go beyond money: There can be physical abuse and sexual violence as well. "The vigilance of friends and family can help protect elders from those who are predatory, which may, unfortunately, include strangers or even other loved ones," said Sandra Timmermann, Ed.D., director of the MetLife Mature Market Institute, in a prepared statement.

What can the elderly do to protect themselves? Among the guidance offered by the report's authors:
  • "Stay active and engage with others; socialize with your family members and friends. Avoid isolation, as it can lead to loneliness, depression, and make you more vulnerable to financial abuse or exploitation."
  • "Use direct deposit for Social Security and other payments to prevent mail theft. Sign your own checks whenever possible."
  • "Stay organized and keep important papers and legal documents in a safe, secure location."
  • "Review your legal documents (i.e., wills, trusts, and power of attorney), as well as other important documents (i.e., insurance policies) at least annually, to make certain they continue to represent your wishes."
Ted Sarenski, who chairs the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants' Elder Planning Task Force, would add to that list. His tips:
  • Subscribe to national and state Do Not Call lists;
  • Keep Social Security cards in a safe place;
  • Remove mail promptly from the mailbox;
  • Shred all confidential and financial information prior to discarding.

"Consider allowing the bank to send a duplicate copy of your bank statement to a trusted family member," advises attorney Andrew Stoltmann, who has a large client base of seniors. "Usually, most financial elder exploitation cases are only reported or discovered six to 12 months after the initial losses have occurred."

Elders whose sight is failing are at even greater risk because they may rely upon the very person who is stealing from them to ensure that their financial transactions are in order, says Stoltmann. "An independent pair of eyes that is able to review bank statements every 30 days will be able to catch suspicious activities in the early stages and cut it off. This is crucial."

Advance Planning Can Help Dodge Dangers


When you are the responsible caregiver, know too, that your prudence can go a long way in preventing financial abuse.
Have some tough conversations. You need to know whether there is a will or a durable power of attorney, and where such documents are. Does your parent have a living will? If so, does it give you clarity about what your loved one's wishes are? A health care power of attorney would permit a trusted individual make medical decisions if your elderly relative was unable to.

It's important not to wait until the eleventh hour to have these talks. Ideally, those documents should be drawn up when your relative is of sound mind and body. It's not a bad idea either, to have a trusted adviser, not only know where the documents are kept, but be able to get to them if needed.

Beware of the appearance on the scene of the "trusted new friend." If mom and dad have a neighbor, caregiver or other outsider who is suddenly their best pal, running errands, going to the bank, and generally being around all the time when they never were before, it can be a warning sign that someone is taking advantage, warns Sarenski.

"Elder financial abuse invariably results in losses of human rights and dignity," said Karen A. Roberto, Ph.D., director of the Center for Gerontology, at Virginia Polytechnic Institute. " Despite growing public awareness from a parade of high-profile financial abuse victims, it remains under reported, under-recognized, and under-prosecuted. The 2010 Passage of the Elder Justice Act may bring more attention and resources to this crime leading to prevention among the expanding older population."

The bottom line, says Maarse Fitzgerald: "Protect elders from isolation, which allows the perpetrators to take control of our elder's lives."



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217 Comments

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Fred

This is a terrible crime and no1 should be coned out of their money...but if you cant keep intouch with tou parents enough to know that they've gotten married, then dont bother suing anyone. Your just as greedy/guilty!

June 10 2011 at 9:41 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
KSMITHSPECTRUM

Maybe the Federal Government has been asleep but with Home Values as low as they are Retiring Seniors have lost most of their retirement. Washington please wake up it's not to late to help our seniors.

June 06 2011 at 12:05 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Barbara

I'm not surprised that people take advantage of the ederly. Our society is full of loesers who have to kill, rob, or maime the older folks to get by. ( HINT: try getting a job or join the military) Younger people should be helping the elderly not victimizing them. I know not everyone is doing this. I don't want to paint a broad brush. America is starting to trully become a loser of a nation.

June 06 2011 at 9:46 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Barbara's comment
Fred

Hey Barbra...might wanna put on your reading glasses, the age range of the perpatratiors are 30 to 59. Dont blame the whippersnappers granny.

June 10 2011 at 9:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
thefacts22

I DONT LIKE THIS ARTICLE. GRANDMA AND GRANDPA, UNLESS THEY ARE LIBERALS, CAN TAKE CARE OF THEMSELVES. ARE YOU PLANNING TO HAVE BIG BROTHER PROTECTING US TOO? AND MICHELLE TELLING WHAT TO EAT AND WHEN, AT WHAT TIME WE GO PP AND WHAT TIME TO GO TO BED?

June 06 2011 at 8:54 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to thefacts22's comment
gardeningatnite

Did the read the article about "Elder Abuse: How to Protect Grandma From Con Men and Thieves"????..........You really should, you know!

June 06 2011 at 9:45 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
RivrWlker

I don't know who's more obnoxious and invasive, the penny auction people or people like you.

June 06 2011 at 11:23 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
LOIS HAIT

THANK YOU!

June 06 2011 at 8:41 AM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
sugarcreekchile

Seniors need to take steps to protect themselves while they are still in good health and possession of their faculties by providing a trusted family member or other person with an accounting of their finances and expression of their wishes should the time occur when their health starts to fail or mind dim. Pick the person who has always been there and shown concern for you over the years, avoid choosing someone who's become fawning (they may boost your ego with their attention, but this is more of an indication that they want something) and put in writing who you want to manage your affairs (so they won't have to fight off the family vultures). The child I've chosen is the one, who even as a teenager working a part-time job, would hand me a $20 bill ( when I didn't need money) and tell me to go buy myself something because I would never spend money on myself. This is, also, the one who is financially secure and has always been frugal with money without being stingy. Have a default person in case something should happen to the one you trust, mine is a trusted niece. If you have to go outside of family or close friends, carefully research and choose a firm to manage your affairs. Place a layer of insulation between yourself and scammers (handymen, caregivers, churches, etc.). While independence is important, be honest when you see yourself begin to falter and start to relinquish control. Everything noted in the article are good tips. To avoid, the sudden appearance of an errand running "Good Samaritan", there are businesses that provide errand running services. One reason that more women are victimized is because they outlive men.

June 06 2011 at 6:55 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Fred

If anything I would expect the younger to be taking advice from their grandparents, after all, we have been there and almost seen it all, this article was written by a younger author who does no research I bet.

June 06 2011 at 6:50 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
dwctah

This article reflects a continuation of the failure of the public and pundits to access one of the most important sources and information, Elder Law attorneys who specialize in representing older citizens. The web site for high quality attorneys NAELA.org, the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. We do not do tax returns, CPAs being held out as experts in this arena is absurd.

June 06 2011 at 6:44 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
rrpatreilly

Too late! The biggest con man is living in the White House! Just wait for obamacare and you will then see Granny and Grandpa make it to the top of the death panels waiting list!

June 06 2011 at 2:46 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
jeannershaffer

No one should find out their Mother die off the internet a month after she died ..You see I having been looking for my Mother for a very long time have not seen her in over 14 years because her daughter Linda cross crawford isolated her and moved her over 40 times our system is so broken . I tried every thing ... she kept her from family and friends .
My Mother was on Hospice. she was on the ventilator for over a year we were never informed . she did not want them to removed the vent because the money would stop ..my Mothers money paid for all the bills . now my evil sister is homeless BEWARE cape coral,fla../ ftmyers,fl Please no more victims ... she ALSO IS WITH A SON jOSHUA A CROSS 26YRS who has a criminal record.

You see my Mother was abused by my father verbally and he would hit her gave her black eyes when were young... Family and friends said it happen before they even had children.. life is a gift .. My Mother never got to know her other 7 grand children and 11 great grand children ... she would be so proud . there is no greater joy than to hold a new born child .. .. my evil greedy sister Linda cross-Crawford took my Mothers life from her .. .

The funeral director was totally shock when I called.my sister was asked if my Mother had anymore children . to authurizs the cremation . she stated no and even sign the paper .. so our Mother was cremated without our permission. my Mother never wanted this she has a gravesite beside my sister and father. in PA.

I wrote my Mothers obituary to honor her.. my Mother you can read it ncnewsonline.com her name is Jean A Gilson

June 06 2011 at 2:39 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply