Perpetrators of elder abuse are increasingly using technology to commit digital financial abuse against the elderly.
Elder abuse can be defined as the mistreatment of senior citizens through physical, emotional or sexual harm. Often, the abuse is carried out as a means to exploit, neglect, harm, or abandon them. In most cases, the abuse tends to be financial, as that is the most common form of elder abuse.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect is the waterfall of potential perpetrators. Elder abuse can come from spouses, family members, caretakers, children, staff members at a nursing home, or even visitors at the place where they are staying. Victims are most likely to be female (72.5%), and the perpetrators are 60% male and 40% female. 92.3% of abuse is perpetrated by persons related to the older person or in a de facto relationship: 66.8% of abuse is perpetrated by a child of the older person.
The most common type of elder abuse is financial abuse. It is considered financial exploitation when a caregiver withholds or illegally uses an elderly adult’s property, funds or assets for their own gain, or another person’s. The MetLife Mature Market Institute estimates that older adults lost a combined total of $2.9 billion to financial abuse in 2011, which is a 12 percent increase in the same statistic from 2008. Naturally, it’s getting worse as time goes on and as the population continues to age. Abuse using technology also continues to sharply increase, as digital financial abuse makes it easier to exploit older people.
The Commonwealth Blog, citing the Pew Research Center, has claimed the increase in abuse correlates with an increase in the number of elderly computer and smartphone users. This is because — as many of us are well aware —the Internet is ripe with shady dealers, spammers, hackers and other unscrupulous individuals. In fact, the Commonwealth Blog goes so far as to claim that almost half (45 percent) of that digital financial abuse starts on the Internet. This isn’t hard to believe, considering even the most tech-savvy sometimes fall prey to these attacks.
Martha Deevy, director of the Financial Security Division at Stanford’s Center on Longevity agrees. “15 years ago, email didn’t exist so the fact that almost 45 percent of these incidents are originating from the Internet is pretty profound.” A study by the Center on Longevity found, “the means by which fraudsters contact targets and obtain money mirror trends in everyday transactions, with the Internet outpacing all other mechanisms.” However, Deevy is quick to point out that there is no profile for victims; different people can be defrauded under different circumstances. “There’s a myth that older people are more susceptible to being victims of financial fraud but we find that older people are more targeted.”
Family members perpetrate 90 percent of all abuse but digital financial abuse provides more avenues for stranger involvement. While email is one way through which scams advance and are perpetrated, social networking sites also offer another outlet, especially as increasing numbers of older adults use sites like Facebook and LinkedIn. According to Pew, one in three seniors uses Facebook and LinkedIn and for adults over 50, the main reason for using social networking sites is to stay in touch with family members.
Experts simply suggest being extra vigilant and realizing that your information may not be as private as you might imagine. “We believe that self awareness is really the best prevention,” Deevy said. Additionally, there are a myriad of resources available for older adults to learn more about online safety as well as to report any incidents of abuse.
One of the key ways you can help to protect your ageing loved ones is to prevent isolation. Preventing isolation can prevent elder abuse because isolation is the greatest risk factor for abuse. Ironically, for many older adults, it is perhaps that isolation that pushes them to learn and use the Internet and social media in the first place. There are a number of ways you can remain vigilant when it comes to elder financial abuse.
How to protect the elderly from digital financial abuse:
- Maintain open communication with the older person
- Take any concerns seriously
- Watch for changes in older person’s appearance or mood
- Recognise signs of financial abuse, such as unpaid bills or missing money
- The biggest risk factor for financial abuse is cognitive impairment in the older person. Ensure that the correct legal protections are in place
What if I suspect digital financial abuse is happening?
Seek legal advice immediately. The sooner you seek help the easier it is to remedy the situation. Contact us for your free, 10-minute phone consultation.