Hundreds of counties across the United States have implemented programs to combat elder financial abuse, according to a report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
The report also found that a strong collaboration among community stakeholders – financial institutions, adult protective services and law enforcement – can be effective in protecting older residents from financial exploitation.
In recent studies, about 17 percent of seniors reported that they have been victims of financial exploitation, but few cases ever come to the attention of protective services. Estimates of losses to elder Americans range from $2.9 billion to as high as $36.5 billion, the bureau said.
Older Americans make attractive targets for financial abuse because they may have significant assets or equity and usually have a regular source of income. They may also be especially vulnerable due to isolation, cognitive decline, physical disability or other health problems.
The report examines how partnerships to curtail elder financial abuse operate in several communities and their effectiveness in responding to such abuse. The report found that these voluntary community-based partnerships can increase reporting of suspected financial exploitation cases, enhance partner skills and ability to address financial exploitation and provide consumer and professional education.
The bureau offered recommendations for communities to develop or improve financial elder abuse prevention efforts, such as creating protection partnerships that involve law enforcement and financial institutions.
Financial institutions have expressed concern about the possible conflict between complying with federal privacy requirements and reporting suspected abuse to the appropriate authorities. Some state legislatures have already tackled the issue, allowing financial institutions greater leeway in reporting suspected abuse.
“Hundreds of counties have developed a community-based approach to protect their seniors and retirees from financial exploitation,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “We’ve learned that an ‘all hands on deck’ strategy can be very effective to fight elder financial fraud. Our new guide and recommendations can help more community stakeholders build these very helpful networks to pool information, expertise, and resources in addressing this growing crisis.”
The bureau also offered suggestions for community support of such initiatives in a blog post.