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June 17, 2010

More than 7.3 million older Americans–one out of every five citizens over the age of 65–already have been victimized by a financial swindle, according to a major new Investor Protection Trust (IPT) survey conducted by Infogroup/ORC and released on Tuesday June 15 to mark World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Key findings of the IPT survey of 2,022 American adults, including 706 adult children with at least one parent aged 65 or older and 590 adults who are aged 65 or older and have children, include the following:

• Half of older Americans exhibit one or more of the warning signs of current financial victimization. For example, 37 percent of seniors are currently being pitched by “people are calling me or mailing me asking for money, lotteries, and other schemes,” while a much lower 19 percent of adult children believe that their parents are being pressured in such a fashion.

• Almost 44 percent of those aged 65 or over got at least two out of four questions wrong about basic investment knowledge.

• About 31 percent of older Americans say they are vulnerable in one or more ways to potential financial victimization.

• Only 5 percent of adult children in touch with their parents’ doctors report the healthcare providers ever mentioning any concerns about parents’ handling of money or relayed any concern from the parent about handling money. However, of that same group, 19 percent report the healthcare provider has mentioned concerns about parents' mental comprehension. Only 2 percent of Americans aged 65 or older say that their healthcare provider has ever asked about how they are handling money issues or problems.

• Four out of 10 children of parents 65 or older are “very” or “somewhat” worried that their parents have already become or will become less able to handle their personal finances over time. Among those over the age of 65, 36 percent are “very” or “somewhat” worried about being less able to handle money issues over time.

The survey results underscore the need for the new partnership between the nonprofit Investor Protection Trust, the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) and the National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA) in cooperation with leading US medical associations including the American Academy of Family Physicians, the National Area Health Education Center Organization and the National Association of Geriatric Education Centers. Their “Elder Investment Fraud and Financial Exploitation” prevention campaign will educate medical professionals about how to spot older Americans who may be particularly vulnerable to financial abuse, and then allow all collaborators to work as a team to refer cases to each other, whether it is to report fraud to securities regulators, report abuse to Adult Protective Services (APS) workers or refer a patient to a clinician for further medical evaluation.

Of particular concern are seniors with mild cognitive impairment who can perform most daily functions, but have trouble or become confused with others, like following their medicine regimen and managing their finances. A 2008 Duke University study found that about 35 percent of the 25 million people over age 71 in the US either have mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease. This makes them especially vulnerable to financial exploitation, including investment fraud. IPT President and CEO Don Blandin said, “We now know that a shockingly large number of older Americans are already victims of financial swindles and millions more are in danger of being exploited in such a fashion. Given that front-line medical professionals who deal everyday with older Americans are ideally positioned to spot the impaired mental capacity that can leave seniors vulnerable to financial abuse, our new program seeks to inform doctors, nurses and others about the warning signs of elder investment fraud and financial exploitation. Our goal is to improve the communication among medical professionals, older Americans, adult children and state securities regulators in order to head off financial swindles before the damage is done.”

Adds NASAA President and Texas Securities Commissioner Denise Voigt Crawford, “The success of a Texas pilot program to train medical professionals to identify and report the signs of elder financial abuse to the Texas State Securities Board encouraged NASAA to form partnerships to expand this education and awareness campaign nationwide. We are pleased to have the support of family physicians, adult protective services workers and other caregivers in the effort to detect and fight the persistent problem of elder investment fraud and abuse. Investment fraud against seniors too often goes unreported, but by teaming up with clinicians and APS workers to give voice to the silent victims, state securities regulators will have more information to investigate and prosecute those who financially exploit our nation’s seniors.”

“The National Adult Protective Services Association represents the ‘boots on the ground’ in the fight against elder abuse,” explains NAPSA Executive Director Kathleen Quinn. “Adult Protective Services professionals are the first responders to elder financial abuse, so they see the devastation these crimes wreak in older persons’ lives every day. It is imperative that a serious national campaign be launched to end rampant elder financial exploitation and to protect and help vulnerable older victims.”