Study reveals the sad, shocking truth about the true culprits behind senior financial abuse

This is Agent XXX from the Social Security Administration.  Your Social Security number has been linked to criminal activities…

I am XXX, a daughter to XXX of Libya.  I will offer you 20% of the total sum of $4.2 million for your assistance…

I’m from Medicare.  We’re sending out new Medicare cards and I need to confirm your billing information to keep your coverage active…

By now we are all sadly aware of the numerous tactics used by fraudsters to drain seniors’ life savings.  The situation is so bad, anyone with a cell phone is probably accustomed to receiving a handful of these phishing calls every week—and that’s to speak nothing of emails, texts, and mail attempts.

When we think about senior financial abuse, these tend to be the kinds of tactics that first come to mind: the stranger cold calls and the robot voicemails we encounter every day.

The reality of senior financial abuse, however, is far more vicious than any Nigerian prince or phony Social Security Administration employee.  As with many forms of abuse and exploitation, the stranger in the back alley is rarely the real predator.

A recent study by the Journal of Applied Gerontology analyzed the characteristics of 1,939 calls coming into the National Center on Elder Abuse resource line.   Among the shared characteristics of these reports was the source of the abuse.  Not a stranger or an unknown conman, but a known and trusted family member.

The study identified 309 calls (about 46.8% of the total calls studied) that accused a family member of senior abuse.  If this sample size is truly indicative of the whole, it suggests siblings, children, nieces, nephews, and grandchildren are the most likely to exploit seniors.

And it’s not limited to strictly financial abuse.  Across all types of offenses (physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect), family members were always the most reported perpetrators.

It’s heartbreaking to think your own flesh and blood—someone totally trusted—would be the most likely to hurt you.  But as shocking as that seems, it’s not at all uncommon.

In fact, it’s true for all age groups and demographics: those closest to you will always be the most likely to take advantage of you.  Family members are the most intimately aware of a victim’s finances, belongings, lifestyle, and emotional state.  They have the victim’s trust and a level of access to a victim’s home and personal information a stranger would have to work to have.  

For scammers, there really is no better victim than a parent or grandparent.  Most people would never suspect a child or grandchild of something so hideous. And even if they did, who would ever want to contact the police and report a beloved family member?  Would you be able to put your child in jail?

Family member senior exploitation is rampant, but the last thing any senior should do is be scared of their families.  Though it’s estimated as much as 90% of elder abuse cases involve a family member, only one in 10 seniors will experience elder abuse. Most families will be the important and supportive social network seniors can depend on.

Nevertheless, these numbers are concerning enough that seniors need to be aware of how to protect themselves in the event of the unthinkable.

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