One in 10 Americans age 60 and older experience some form of physical, emotional, financial or even sexual abuse over the course of a year, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse, based in Alhambra, California. One in 2 adults with dementia has been victimized.
"Older people are vital, contributing members of our society," noted Kathy Greenlee, assistant secretary for aging and administrator of the Administration for Community Living. "The abuse or neglect of any one of them diminishes us all."
Financial elder abuse, in which a senior citizen is coerced, bullied or tricked into relinquishing hard-earned assets, is the most common form of elder abuse and the fastest-growing, according to Consumer Reports. Yet by one estimate, only 1 in 44 victims report the crime.
Most of the abuse is committed by family members or people the senior knows. Scams by strangers, though less common, often happen more quickly and can result in bigger financial losses. A conservative estimate of annual losses is $3 billion, according to a study published in 2011 by the MetLife Mature Market Institute.
How to Protect Seniors
Consumer Reports offers these five ways consumers can help ensure the safety of the elderly:
1. Regularly call or visit. Be suspicious if a senior citizen has a new "best friend," becomes socially isolated, never seems to be available or able to come to the phone or is hesitant to have contact with others unless a caregiver is present. This could indicate that someone has undue influence on the senior's behavior and decision-making.
2. Provide respite for a caregiver. Caregivers who are stressed financially and emotionally can sometimes steal the assets of those they are supposed to be caring for. Monitor the caregiver and ensure that person gets enough rest.
3. Set up safeguards at the bank. If you're concerned about your relative's financial decision-making, set up a small account at a local bank for her. That account could, for instance, include a debit card and checking with a spending limit of, say, $300. That way, any other finances can be saved in a separate, more secure account.
4. Arrange for limited account oversight. Ask financial institutions to send statements and alerts to a trusted person who has no direct access to the senior's accounts, so that person can check for fraud. Another option is to try EverSafe, a web-based service that consolidates all of a senior's accounts and checks daily for suspicious activity. Consumer Reports found one of its services, called EverSafe Essentials, generally worked as promised. It costs $7.49 per month for one person.
5. Block solicitations. Opt out of commercial mail solicitations. You can arrange for a ban of five years at a time with the Direct Marketing Association's mail preference service. To eliminate unsolicited offers for credit, go to optoutprescreen.com. To eliminate robocalls, try a call-blocking device or Nomorobo, a free service that's available through some landline providers. Consumer Reports found it to be quite effective.
To learn more, visit ConsumerReports.org.