About 52% of elder financial abuse victims say they were taken advantage of by a family member, friend or caregiver; 22% say it was a stranger. The rest blame companies, churches, salesmen and others.
The average amount lost: $30,000. About 12% report missing $100,000 or more.
"It's pretty well established that this problem is underreported," and there are several reasons for that, says Walter White, president and CEO of Allianz Life. Financial abuse can lead "to shame and embarrassment on the part of the victims," which is one reason they tend not to report it.
There is "some natural reluctance to report" a family member or friend, and there is often a "disbelief that it's happening," he says.
White says there are famous cases of elder financial abuse, such as Mickey Rooneyand Brooke Astor, but he also had an incident in his own family. One of his great aunts was planning to leave a small bequest to his family, but someone befriended her late in life to get access to her money."My family lost the bequest," he says. "But more important, my great aunt lost her final wish."
Sally Hurme, an elder law attorney with AARP, says it's hard to pin down how many older adults are victims of financial abuse. "Depending on the survey and how the questions are asked, the numbers of victims can range from 4% to 17%."
The reasons for the differences are many but include the realization that some victims may not even know that they are being victimized, she says. "For most exploitation schemes to work, the victim needs to be kept in the dark about what's happening to them. Other victims may be reluctant to accurately respond to surveys, or even report to authorities. This reluctance could be denial, embarrassment or shame, especially if the perpetrator is a family member."
Some estimates suggest that older Americans may lose billions each year because of financial abuse, Hurme says.
According to the new survey, the most common types of financial loss reported: funds disappearing from accounts (reported by 33%); unauthorized purchase of products or services (reported by 23%).
About 78% of people ages 40 to 64 feel confident that they could recognize financial abuse if it happened to a family member or friend, but only 58% feel like they have the resources and information to prevent it from happening.
Most people believe the biggest threat for financial abuse comes from a telemarketing scams or over the phone, followed by Internet scams.
White offers these tips for protecting yourself from financial abuse:
• Educate yourself to recognize the red flags of financial abuse.
• Have a third party, such as an accountant, attorney or financial adviser, monitor your accounts for any suspicious activity and consult on key tax matters and legal documents.
• Never reveal personal financial information in response to a telephone or online solicitation.
• Put your financial decisions in writing so there is no confusion later in life.
• Get a second opinion before changing your power of attorney, will or trust.