Financial exploitation, as defined under New York State Social Services Law Section 473 (6)(g), is the improper use of an adult’s funds, property, or resources by another individual. It includes these crimes: fraud, false pretenses, embezzlement, conspiracy, forgery, falsifying records, coerced property transfers, and denial of access to assets. The following are examples of elder financial exploitation:
- A Bankers Life and Casualty insurance agent cultivated social relationships with several older clients and when their annuities matured, convinced them to “reinvest” the proceeds with her, stealing more than $1 million dollars that should have supported them throughout retirement.
- Over the course of a single week, a 58-year-old woman met and married a 72-year-old man with terminal cancer and Alzheimer’s Disease and then gained sole control of both his bank account and pension fund.
- In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, an untold number of homeowners, many of them elderly, were taken advantage of by unscrupulous contractors whose work was shoddy, incomplete or who took a deposit and never showed up at all.
- An 87-year-old widow was swindled out of $217,000 by a woman she viewed as a friend and who had promised to pay back a series of “loans.” She lost her home as a result.
- A 72-year-old man fled his apartment after his son, who forced him to sign a power of attorney, threatened his physical safety.
These true accounts of elderly financial exploitation illustrate these trends in a phenomenon affecting millions of older Americans annually:
- Having had a lifetime to acquire and save, older adults tend to possess more financial assets and property than younger people, making them attractive targets for financial exploitation.
- Although stranger scams are on the rise and sometimes cause significant losses, older adults are even more likely to be financially exploited by someone they know, such as a family member, friend, neighbor, or trusted caregiver or service provider. In a study conducted by the New York State Office for Children and Family Services, family members were identified as perpetrators in 67% of verified cases.
- In that same study of reported cases in New York, half of all victims had a physical impairment, and a third had a diagnosis of dementia or other pronounced cognitive impairment. A striking 58% of New York victims did not fully comprehend that their money or valuables had been stolen. Thus, it is clear that older adults with significant mental and physical impairments are especially vulnerable to financial exploitation.
- Financial exploitation often involves coercion, even if the situation doesn’t appear so at first glance. Perpetrators use an array of tactics to manipulate and control their victims to get what they want. Moreover, when financial exploitation occurs in the context of a relationship, the abuse is likely to grow worse over time and extend beyond theft. Stealing often begets emotional abuse and neglect, and can lead to physical harm as well.
- Being exploited by someone an older adult depends on for care or support can diminish that person’s ability and/or willingness to seek help and report abuse.
- While cases involving wealthy individuals capture media attention—at age 98 the heiress Huguette Clark abruptly changed her will, leaving her long-time private nurse $30 million dollars and nothing to her heirs—most victims are cheated out of modest amounts of money that nevertheless can cause extraordinary deprivations in their lives. Financial exploitation can be a gateway to poverty, increasing the odds that an older adult will end up on public assistance and even die prematurely. Research shows that moderate wealth is a predictor of longevity, while poverty has the opposite effect.
- Elder abuse of all kinds, including financial exploitation, is a risk factor for major depression, other illness, and hospitalization.
- Financial exploitation of older adults is on the rise. New York Adult Protective Services (APS) documented a 35% increase in reported cases between 2010 and 2014, which is one of the reasons the state invested in a more in-depth study of the problem. And for every case that comes to the attention of authorities, many more are undetected.