A federal consumer activist, along with a professor of elder law and representatives from organizations like the State Attorney’s Office and AARP told a gathering of elder advocates in Miami on Tuesday that financial exploitation of seniors could grow worse as the country ages.
What’s more, Florida has the dubious distinction of being ranked first in the country in the number of all fraud complaints.
“Reports indicate that elder financial exploitation is a growing problem,” said Jenefer Duane, a senior program analyst with the national Office of Financial Protection for Older Americans. “I know you see this in your daily work — elders victimized by scammers they don’t know, those closest to them, those cloaked in legal authority to access their money and those who exercise undue influence.”
With more than 500,000 elderly in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, the two-county area is a prime target, said Max Rothman, CEO and president of the Alliance for Aging. That’s why the Alliance sponsored Tuesday’s symposium, No Excuse for Financial Abuse.
“We haven’t done a good enough job of teaching our elderly about preventing financial abuse and exploitation,” Rothman added. “It’s a hidden crisis and data is hard to come by. We don’t even know the incidence rate in Miami-Dade and Monroe.”
Statistics on elder exploitation tend to be sketchy because there is no single reporting mechanism, but a MetLife Mature Market Institute study estimated that the annual financial loss by victims totaled $2.9 billion in 2010, a 12 percent increase from the 2008 estimate. It’s estimated that for each case that is reported, 43 others go unrecognized.
Panelists recounted how family members and close friends sometimes con seniors. Others detailed a variety of investment frauds. “It’s rare to be able to prosecute … and recover the money for the investor,” said Eric Bustillo, regional director for the Miami office of the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Several government agencies host elderly helplines and websites to help consumers. And the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, which protects consumers against unfair and abusive practices, created the Office of Financial Protection for Older Americans to develop education initiatives and coordinate outreach efforts with other agencies in order to help seniors make sound financial decisions.
“We are not going to solve this problem through legislation,” concluded Roberta Flowers, a professor of elder law at Stetson University in DeLand. “We are going to solve this problem through education.”