Survey Reports 17% of U.S. Seniors Swindled


Last updated 5/2/2016 at 7:46pm | View PDF

Almost one in five Americans over the age of 65 – 17%, or nearly seven million seniors – have "been taken advantage of financially in terms of an inappropriate investment, unreasonably high fees for financial services, or outright fraud," according to a new survey conducted by Public Policy Polling (PPP) for the Investor Protection Trust (IPT), a nonprofit organization devoted to investor education and protection. That level is down slightly from the 20% of seniors who reported in a 2010 IPT survey that they had been victimized.

The new IPT survey of 3,672 American adults – including 703 adult children with at least one parent aged 65 or older and 2257 adults who are aged 65 or older – finds several troubling signs of the extent of elder financial abuse and exploitation in the United States.

However, there also are encouraging signs of improvement over the last six years.

Efforts to involve doctors in spotting and reporting signs of financial exploitation of the elderly appear to be working. Of those who are in touch with their parent's healthcare providers, 21% of children with elderly parents report the healthcare providers mentioning concerns about their parents handling of money, or relaying concerns from their parents about handling money. (This is up sharply from 5% in 2010.) However, of that same group, 27% report the healthcare provider has mentioned "concerns about your parents' mental comprehension." (This is up from the 2010 level of 19%.) More than three-fifths (61%) of children are not in touch with their parents' healthcare providers.

Concerted efforts to educate elderly investors about investment schemes may be gaining traction. In a major improvement from 2010 where 44% of those aged 65 or over got at least two out of four questions wrong about basic investment knowledge, over half (51%) got all the answers right and only 14% got two or more answers wrong.

Why the focus on the role of doctors? The effort led by IPT to involve doctors in spotting and reporting the signs of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) that can result in older Americans being more vulnerable to money swindles started in 2010. The IPT Elder Investment Fraud and Financial Exploitation (EIFFE) Prevention Program was developed by the Huffington Center on Aging at Baylor College of Medicine and the Texas Consortium Geriatric Education Center. Since then, IPT has worked with 30 state securities offices to form a coalition to prevent elder investment fraud/financial exploitation. To date, a total of 90 continuing medical education (CME) events have been held in 30 states and jurisdictions (as well as events at national and regional conferences), providing EIFEE Prevention Program training to 8,600 medical professionals.

"While it is still alarming to see that nearly one out of five older Americans have been victims of financial swindles, it is encouraging that doctors and adult children are more tuned into this problem,” said Don Blandin, president and CEO of Investor Protection Trust. “Doctors and the nurses who work with seniors are playing an important 'first responder' role in spotting older Americans who have been or are being victimized by investment fraud and other financial exploitation. State securities regulators and others are working with thousands of doctors nationwide to make sure that they learn the symptoms of this problem and what to prescribe in terms of help from the experts who are standing by to provide it."

"State securities agencies see every day the huge toll that financial swindles exact from unwary older investors,” said Irving Faught, securities administrator with the Oklahoma Securities Commission. “That is why the Oklahoma Securities Commission was a lead state in involving doctors in the detection and reporting of financial fraud cases. We have seen this work in our state and think it's an important part of the prescription needed to reduce elder investment fraud and financial exploitation."

Other key 2016 survey findings include that nearly half (47%) of 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." (This is up from 40% in 2010.) Only 25% say they are "not worried at all" about such a development. (This is down from 36% in 2010.) Those over 65 have a somewhat different view: 30% are "very" or "somewhat" worried about being less able over time, compared to 36% who expressed such concerns in 2010.


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