Sunday, June 12, 2011

MetLife Releases Study of Financial Exploitation of the Elderly

June 15th is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Recently, MetLife Completed its Study of Financial Exploitation of the Elderly, which Revealed Grim Statistics

The recent MetLife study of financial exploitation of senior citizens confirms a disturbing trend: senior citizens are losing billions of dollars each year due to the predations of family, friends, neighbors, and businesses. MetLife’s research concludes that seniors are being bilked annually of more than $2.9 billion dollars, a 12 percent increase from the $2.6 billion estimated in 2008. Medicare and Medicaid fraud resulted in the highest average loss to victims ($38,263,136) followed by fraud by business and industry ($6,219,496), family, friends, and neighbors ($145,768), and fraud by strangers ($95,156).

The MetLife Executive Summary of the recent study reviewed newspaper articles and concluded that:

"Instances of fraud perpetrated by strangers comprised 51% of the articles. Reports of elder financial abuse by family, friends, and neighors came in second, with 34% of the news articles followed by reports of exploitation within the business sector (12%) and Medicare and Medicaid fraud (4%)...Women were nearly twice as likely to be victims of elder financial abuse as men. Most victims were between the ages of 80 and 89, lived alone, and required some level of help with either health care or home maintenance. In almost all of the cases, there existed a combination of tenuous, valued independence and observable vulnerability that merged in the lives of victims to optimize opportunities for abuse by every type of perpetrator — from the closest family members to professional criminals.

Nearly 60% of perpetrators were males. Most male perpetrators were between the ages of 30 and 59, while most of the female perpetrators were between the ages of 30 and 49. Perpetrators who were strangers often targeted victims with visible vulnerabilities (e.g., limited mobility, displays of confusion, or living alone).

The number of news articles increased and the character of elder financial abuse changed during the holidays. From November 2010 through January 2011, of the 1,128 articles on elder abuse identified through the newsfeeds, 354 (31%) concerned elder financial abuse. At least one-quarter (27%) of the cases reported were random, predominantly single-event crimes accounting for relatively small monetary rewards and characterized by a high level of brutality and disregard for human life. Reports of elder financial abuse perpetrated by strangers and by friends and families were very similar (47% vs. 45%, respectively).

Dollar losses over the holidays due to family, friend, and neighbor perpetrators were overall higher than any other category, likely owing to sheer numbers of instances, although the average number of dollars lost per individual instance was highest from business perpetrators. It is remarkable that the number of stranger cases comprise nearly 50% of all the holiday cases, comparable to the 51% April to June incidence rate.

In almost all instances reported in the newsfeeds, the goals of financial abuse perpetrators were achieved through deceit, threats, and emotional manipulation of the elder. In addition, physical and sexual violence frequently occurred within the vortex of elemental greed and disregard for the victim that surrounded financial abuse.

New research indicates that the instances of elder financial abuse are far higher than previously reported. In particular, a national study of 5,776 older adults found that the one-year prevalence for financial abuse by a family member was 5%. Further, a recent prevalence study covering the state of New York revealed that the highest rate of any type of elder mistreatment was financial abuse, with a rate of 41 per 1,000 (4%).

Elder financial abuse appears to fall into three types of crimes: occasion, desperation, and predation. Crimes of occasion or opportunity are incidents of financial abuse or exploitation that occur because the victim is merely in the way of what the perpetrator wants. Crimes of desperation are typically those in which family members or friends become so desperate for money that they will do whatever it takes to get it. Many of these family members are dependent on the elder relative for housing and money.

Finally, crimes of predation or occupation occur when trust is engendered for the specific intention of financial abuse later. A relationship is built, either through a bond of trust created though developing a relationship (romantic or otherwise) or as a trusted professional advisor, and then used to financially exploit the victim.

Passage of the Elder Justice Act in 2010 has the potential to bring to bear more attention to this crime and resources to better understand, educate about, and prevent elder financial abuse among the expanding older population. In addition, a new Office of Financial Protection for Older Americans was established in 2010 as part of the new Financial Regulatory Reform Bill. Congressional activity on the Elder Abuse Victims Act (S.462) and the expected introduction of the Senior Financial Empowerment Act indicate that Congressional attention will continue to be focused on the issue of elder financial abuse.

Elder financial abuse continues to decimate incomes both great and small, engenders health care inequities, fractures families, reduces available health care options, and increases rates of mental health issues among elders. Elder financial abuse invariably results in losses of human rights and dignity. Despite growing public awareness from a parade of high-profile financial abuse victims, it remains underreported, under-recognized, and under-prosecuted."

Read the entire MetLife study at:


About Lisa C Smith

Attorney Lisa C. Smith believes that many legal problems can be resolved by working out agreements, legal documents, and creative solutions for businesses and families. Her goal is to provide quality legal representation with personal service and respect.

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