Elderly Financial Abuse: A Call for Action
Actor Mickey Rooney passed away at the age of 93 on April 6, 2014. Famous for his portrayal of the title character in Andy Hardy’s Double Life and many other films, Mr. Rooney is said to have died with only $18,000 to his name. Mr. Rooney is one of many seniors who fell victim to elder financial abuse. He ultimately testified about before the Senate Special Committee on Aging in March of 2011 in an effort to get better legal protection for elders like himself (Gjertsen II, 2014).
A 2011 study by MetLife reports that elder financial abuse totals over 2.9 billion dollars each year. Fraud by strangers amounted to 51% of cases while 34% of the abuses cases were perpetrated by someone close to the victim (relative, friend, neighbor). Most victims were women between 80 and 89 years old while most perpetrators of financial abuse were males (60%). Many cases involved victims that were noticeably vulnerable. (MetLife, 2011). Despite these astounding numbers, many sources say that a great deal of elder abuse goes unreported and even fewer are investigated due to lack of expertise on the part of those working with the elderly (Eisenberg, 2015).
At present, legislation addressing protection of elders against financial abuse is primarily left up to individual states. The federal government did establish the Elder Justice Act in 2010 to provide an Elder Justice Advisory Board; grants to support improvements to Adult Protective Services and long term care facilities; and mandatory reporting of crimes against elderly in certain situations (NCEA, 2015). Banks have been encouraged and sometimes mandated to report suspected financial abuse of the elderly. However, statues governing this procedure can vary greatly according to specific states. In February of 2011, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued 2011-A003, which is an “Advisory to Financial Institutions on Filing Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) Regarding Elder Financial Exploitation”(Callaway and Becker, 2011). But, this is guidance, not legislation. Most recently, the 2015 White House Conference on Aging has identified “elder justice” as one of its top 4 priorities and several agencies are teaming to gather data. In addition, the Department of Justice has created an elder justice website to assist everyone involved with seniors (Eisenberg, 2015). Still, there is no proposed national statute.
While states have differing individual legislation, it seems that the only way to ensure uniform protection of our elderly is to enact federal legislation. This would impact all states. Lawmakers must make a concerted effort to get national legislation passed. Enacting a federal statute with the following provisions appears to be the best solution: 1) Mandatory training for all bank employees, doctors, lawyers, law enforcement and anyone else working with elderly clients on how to identify and report elderly financial abuse along with mandatory reporting guidelines; 2) Strengthen penalties for financial deception of elders; 3) Educate seniors about ways to get support if they are being abused; 4) Increase knowledge of the problem through public awareness campaigns; 5) Provide for research to address ongoing concerns. (The Council of State Governments, 2012). With a federal statute in place, not only will potential exploiters be discouraged from taking advantage of the elderly, but the American public will bring this issue to light, thus making huge strides towards improvement just by passing the statute itself. Elderly people all over America need help and protection, and by passing a statute with the above provisions, lawmakers can put a permanent end to elderly financial abuse.
Callaway, Leslie and Becker, Jerry (2011, July/ August). Stopping the Financial Abuse of Seniors. ABA Bank Compliance. Retrieved from https://www.aba.com/Products/bankcompliance/Documents/JulyAug11CoverStory.pdf
Council on State Governments. (2012, April). Policy and Research; Crackdown on Elder Abuse. Retrieved from http://www.csgmidwest.org/policyresearch/0412eldabuse.aspx
Eisenberg, Richard. (2015, February 13). Why Elder Financial Abuse Is Such a Slippery Crime. Forbes: Investing. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/nextavenue/2015/02/13/why-elder-financial-abuse-is-such-a-slippery-crime/
Gjertsen II, Ed (2014, April 10). The Double Life of Mickey Rooney. CNBC. Retrieved from http://www.cnbc.com/2014/04/10/the-double-life-of-mickey-rooney.html
MetLife (2011, June). The MetLife Study of Elder Financial Abuse. Crimes of Occasion, Desperation, and Predation Against America’s Elders. Retrieved from https://www.metlife.com/assets/cao/mmi/publications/studies/2011/mmi-elder-financial-abuse.pdf
National Center on Elder Abuse/ Administration on Aging (2015). Department of Health and Human Services, Federal Laws. Retrieved from http://www.ncea.aoa.gov/Library/Policy/Law/Federal/index.aspx