Older Americans are losing $2.9 billion annually to elder financial abuse, a 12% increase from the $2.6 billion estimated in 2008, according to a study performed by MetLife.

Elder financial abuse is a serious and shameful crime in which an individual, an institution, or even someone who has power of attorney for the elder improperly uses an elder’s money, property or assets, like cashing an elderly person’s checks without authorization or forging their signature on a document. Another prevalent example is tricking an elderly person into signing a will or contract.

According to the study, 51 percent of the perpetrators were strangers, followed by family members, friends and neighbors at a shocking 34 percent. Exploitation from businesses claimed 12 percent of the victims and finally Medicare and Medicaid fraud with four percent.

Other major findings from the study, which was produced together with the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (NCPEA) and the Center for Gerontology at Virginia Tech, included:

  • Elder financial abusers targeted double the amount of women as men.
  • Most victims were between the ages of 80 and 89, lived alone and required some assisted living care.
  • Nearly 60% of perpetrators were males between ages 30 and 59.
  • Holidays saw more crime when plenty of money was already going out.

“Our findings illustrate the dehumanization of victims that takes place in the process of financial abuse and further destruction of financial security that occurs,” said Sandra Timmermann, Ed.D., director of the MetLife Mature Market Institute. “In almost all instances, financial exploitation is achieved through deceit, threats and emotional manipulation of an elder. The vigilance of friends and family can help protect elders from those who are predatory, which may, unfortunately, include strangers or even other loved ones.”

Check Out: How To Manage Finances of Elderly Relatives

Know what you’re up against

Some things to look for in determining whether elder abuse is taking place:

  • sudden bank account changes, like large unexplained withdrawals
  • additional unexplained names on an elder’s bank signature card
  • substandard care despite adequate finances
  • sudden transfer of assets or changes in a will

If you are concerned you or a loved one has been a victim of elder abuse, there are a host of websites to educate you and organizations to fight against it. Check out the NCPEA for more information.

Read: Tips on Helping Your Elderly Parents

Have you or a family member experienced elder abuse? If you would like to share your story please comment below:

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