Pandemic exacerbating financial elder abuse problems

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, state and local governments tried to protect the most vulnerable in their communities by issuing lockdown orders that shuttered businesses, schools and more. Sadly, these shutdowns which were designed, in part, to shield seniors from coronavirus also resulted in increased isolation, which made them more susceptible to financial elder abuse.

An unintended consequence of ongoing social distancing is that it helps to perpetuate senior isolation, as they stay home, often depending on others to shop for food and other necessities.

Senior isolation can lead to financial abuse

Social isolation is one of the biggest risks for seniors that can lead to another party taking financial advantage of them.

A recent white paper from PlainsCapital Bank stated that it’s estimated that five million people ages 65 and older are financially exploited each year – often by family members, friends or other trusted individuals. Victims of the abuse suffer losses estimated to exceed $30 billion annually.

The wide extent of damage

Of course, the financial damage often pales in comparison to the emotional anguish seniors suffer at the hands of fraudsters – anguish that can threaten the elderly victims’ mental and physical health.

In a recent interview, a vice president at PlainsCapital said that financial abuse has grown 30 to 40 percent during the pandemic. She said bank employees are trained to look for signs of potential abuse in everything from tense conversations with caretakers to suspicious account activity.

Two main types of financial elder abuse

According to the bank’s white paper, elder financial exploitation falls into one of two broad categories:

  • Theft of income: as the most common form of financial elder abuse, this involves thefts between the amounts of $1,000 and $5,000.
  • Theft of assets: this form of financial abuse is associated with real estate transactions, powers of attorney, tax manipulation, undue influence over financial decisions and identity theft.

While there has been substantial reporting in the media about the health issues seniors face during the pandemic, the potential for pandemic-fueled financial exploitation of isolated seniors is a subject that is rarely discussed.