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Financial exploitation is the improper use of funds, property or resources by another individual. Thefts and scams are considered the most serious dimension of financial exploitation, but other types include abuse of trust, financial entitlement, coercion, and money management difficulties.

IOG WSU Stacked colorWhile anyone at any age, can be exploited, the financial exploitation of older adults has been termed “The Crime of the 21st Century.” The number of adults age 65 and older is expanding rapidly, and we are experiencing the greatest wealth transfer, from one generation to the next, in the history of our country. Are older adults more susceptible than others are to financial exploitation? Are there risk factors for becoming the victim of financial exploitation? Can it be prevented?

The good news first. Older adults overall are no more susceptible to financial exploitation than younger adults. Older adults are targeted for certain specific scams more than any other age group though. These include lottery scams (You just won $4,000,000 and we only need $25,000 to process your winnings), IRS or other government impersonation scams (We are going to arrest you immediately if you don’t pay your back taxes), and tech scams (Your computer has a virus; let us access it to repair it). The best prevention is to refrain from answering the phone calls from numbers you do not recognize or are unidentified, and to throw away mailings about lottery winnings or other prizes asking you for money and other financial information.

The greatest risk factors for financial exploitation are cognitive decline and dementia, loneliness, depression, isolation, and disability that leads to loss of social support. While older adults without cognitive impairment typically handle their finances just as well as other adults, those with cognitive impairment show dramatic declines in financial management skills. This is just one more reason to have a cognitive assessment completed whenever there are possible concerns.

Here at the Institute of Gerontology, we’re working hard to protect older adults from financial exploitation. Our SAFE program (Successful Aging through Financial Empowerment) offers financial educational seminars to help older adults and caregivers spot scams and fraud, report financial crimes, and restore their credit history if their identity is stolen.

We’ve also created special tools for financial professionals who work with older adults (like bankers, lawyers and investment advisors). These tools are convenient on-line assessments that can be conducted to help determine an older adult’s financial decision-making skills. They can also help indicate a person’s vulnerability to being financially exploited.

Financial scams and fraud will never disappear completely. So be wary, guard your data, report anything suspicious, and accept that while you may never win the lottery, you can take action to keep thieves away from your savings. For information about our SAFE program, please visit https://iog.wayne.edu/outreach/success-after-financial-exploitation--safe-