Being Aware of Elder Abuse

When the media talks about elder abuse, people often think about domestic and physical violence. AARP suggests the most likely type of elder abuse is financial. For example, consider the elderly grandmother who is accompanied by her 20-year old grandson to the bank where, at the grandson’s behest, she makes a $4,000 withdrawal. Debra Whitman of AARP estimates the average cost of elderly financial exploitation is $120,000 per victim at an aggregate U.S. cost of $2.9 billion per year.

The biggest clue to possible financial exploitation is constant and out-of-the-ordinary cash withdrawals. As a result, AARP has launched AARP BankSafe, an online training program available to bank and credit union employees who often interact with elderly customers.

Exploitation is defined as abusing one’s relationships — in this case a relationship with an older person — as a way to persuade the elderly person into handing over some of their assets. There are a variety of ways exploitation can occur – misusing a power of attorney, blocking an elderly person from accessing their money, or withdrawing money from the victim’s account without their permission. Most perpetrators are well-known to the victim and often include family members and caregivers.

Bank tellers should be asking customers a number of questions and, if they notice something unusual, request the help of a supervisor. There is at least initial evidence that the increased vigilance is somewhat effective. Nevertheless, AARP reports that, even with financial institutions increased efforts, reports of elder financial abuse quadrupled between 2013 and 2017. It is likely that reported incidents represent only a small fraction of actual cases.