Elders can be taken advantage of or abused in a variety of ways, including physically, emotionally, sexually, and financially. Financial elder abuse is be a crime, and it is on the rise. In 2009, MetLife Mature Market Institute released a report, Broken Trust: Elders, Family and Finances, stating that up to one million older Americans may be targeted yearly. The related costs (e.g., for health care, social services, investigations, legal fees, prosecution, and lost income and assets) for older Americans exceed $2.9 billion annually.
At an age when the labors of a lifetime should be enjoyed, many elders are being exploited by con artists, unscrupulous companies, caregivers, and even trusted family members. The outcome often is devastating. Without financial resources, physical and emotional well-being decline. Elders lose their independence.
The laws defining the abuse and exploitation of elders vary from state to state. According to California State Welfare and Institutions Code, Section 15610.30, financial abuse is "a situation in which a person, including but not limited to, one who has care or custody of or who stands in a position of trust, of an elder or dependent adult, takes, secretes, or appropriates their money or property, to any wrongful use, or with the intent to defraud."
Financial abuse also includes the illegal or improper use of an elder or dependent adult's financial resources.
The definition of an elder can vary from state to state. According to the Welfare and Institutions Code, an elder is a person over age 65 who resides in the state of California. A vulnerable elder is one whose physical or mental health puts him or her at increased risk of abuse.
Financial abuse of elders and dependent adults is on the rise. In 2002, 250,000 cases of vulnerable adult abuse were reported in California, with approximately 40% identified as financial abuse.
California is a prime target for financial abuse as the nation’s highest retirement destination, with an estimated 3.9 million people over age 65 living in the Golden State in 2006. That same population is expected to jump to more than 9 million by 2020.
Financial abuse is one of the most underreported crimes due to the victim's embarrassment, fear of loss of independence, intimidation by the perpetrator and widespread lack of awareness that it is a crime. Victims of elder abuse, neglect and financial exploitation are 3.1 times more likely to die at an earlier age than are those not victimized. Victims rarely recover financially and losses often lead to depression, increased physical problems, reliance on public benefits and even death. Increased funding and partnership is urgently needed to fight this growing problem.