White House Announces Coordinated Effort To Combat Elder Financial Abuse

Federal programs that target the devastating and increasing problem of financial abuse against older Americans will be improved and tightly coordinated, replacing the current “fragmented” approach,  Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced Thursday.

At a White House forum on elder abuse and financial exploitation, Sebelius says a $5.5 million grant under the Affordable Care Act will be used to create a federal elder justice coordination team, including officials from the Justice Department and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). That team will examine previously “fragmented” elder abuse initiatives across the federal government and determine what actions are needed to enhance protection efforts.

She says officials will also study state protective service systems around country “that got results” in addressing swindles and fraud perpetrated against elders, and use those best practices to educate caregivers and others to recognize and report these cases.

“We’ve never had a coordinated federal response to elder abuse,” Sebelius says. “This is the right thing to do.”

CFPB Director Richard Cordray also announced his agency was launching an inquiry into “the many ways” in which older adults are exploited financially. He says the CFPB wants to hear from the public, particularly people who work directly with seniors, about these issues.

He says the agency also is seeking input on how older people can best determine whether the credentials of financial advisers are legitimate. He cited a study in which older adults lost at least $2.9 billion to financial exploitation in 2010.

“Unfortunately, it is a growing trend,” Cordray says. “From 2008 to 2010, there was a 12 percent increase in the amount of money scammed from seniors.”

Millions of older Americans suffer financial abuse at the hands of trusted relatives and caregivers. Just last year, actor Mickey Rooney, then 90, told a Senate Aging Committee hearing that he was a victim for years but was afraid to seek help because he was “overwhelmed” with fear, anger and disbelief.and millions of other older Americans.

“Over the course of time, my daily life became unbearable. … I felt trapped, scared, used and frustrated. But above all, I felt helpless,” Rooney said, reading from his prepared testimony.

According to a new survey, financial exploitation of the elderly is an under-reported crime, costing victims billions of dollars, and it’s a greater problem than ever.

The findings were based on questions posed to 762 securities regulators, adult protective services workers, medical professionals, financial planners, law enforcement officials and others on the front lines of these crimes.

It said that most elderly investment fraud goes unreported because of “shame” on the part of victims (86 percent); because con artists string victims along until it is too late (80 percent); or because adult children fail to spot the problem and intervene (70 percent).

Almost all of the experts polled say problems with mental comprehension make older adults more vulnerable to financial swindles. As the population ages, these crimes are likely to spike.

The results were released by the non-profit Investor Protection Trust ahead of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on Friday.

The poll also found that more than one in two (58 percent) surveyed say they deal with elderly victims of investment fraud or financial exploitation “quite often” or “somewhat often.”

“We see the devastation these crimes wreak in older persons’ lives every day,” says Kathleen Quinn, executive director of the National Adult Protective Services Association.

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