Elder financial abuse is a phenomenon that robs our economy of anywhere from $3 billion to $36 billion every year, posing a clear threat to the financial well-being of our communities. Yet more than that, elder abuse is a profound violation of trust. Not only our pocketbooks are at risk - the emotional and family lives of our senior citizens can also be irretrievably shattered by exploitation.
California is on the front line of the fight against elder abuse. As State Assemblywoman Catharine Baker, R-Dublin, points out, we're facing a "silver tsunami" with thousands of baby boomers turning 65 and retiring every day, and it's these new seniors who are "target no. 1" for scammers. With such a crime wave a foreseeability, why is financial elder abuse so hard to track?
Only a small portion of fraud schemes against the elderly are ever exposed and the perpetrators brought to justice. There are several reasons why it's difficult to catch elder abusers. First off, all too many scammers get away with the financial equivalent of murder. And even when a senior citizen realizes they've been defrauded, they're frequently too ashamed to admit it to loved ones or pursue legal action against the wrongdoer.
Yet there's an even more disturbing answer to the conundrum: most perpetrators of elder financial abuse are known to their victims, and more often than not, they're members of the family or figures like caretakers, attorneys, financial professionals, etc. According to deputy district attorney for Contra Costa County Bryan Tierney, 85% of financial elder abuse is carried out by a familiar, trusted individual in the victim's life, making the likelihood the crime will be reported to the authorities all the lower. Tierney also remarks that it's not uncommon for there to be a lack of financial records, which bad actors will use to fabricate consent out of thin air in their manipulations.
So how can you protect your loved ones against elder financial abuse? More than anything, be there for them and communicate your concern for their safety. Set up a multi-layered system of checks and balances between family members, caretakers, financial professionals, and attorneys to ensure the integrity of financial accounts and the elder's peace of mind. There's no excuse for this shameless exploitation of the most vulnerable among us, and the best way to fight elder abuse is to prevent it from happening in the first place.