WASHINGTON, DC- Financial exploitation of older Americans is a growing epidemic that cost seniors an estimated $2.9 billion in 2010, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO). In Maine alone, there are 14,000 new reports each year of senior abuse. In as many of 90 percent of these financial abuse cases, the senior is victimized by someone he or she knows well. Financial exploitation of vulnerable seniors was the topic of a hearing today of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, which is chaired by Senator Susan Collins.
Among the witnesses at today’s hearing was Judith Shaw, Maine’s Administrator of the Office of Securities. Also appearing before the Aging Committee today was Philip Marshall who is the grandson of the late Brooke Astor, a New York philanthropist whose son, Anthony Marshall, mistreated her and mismanaged her funds while she suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. Ms. Astor summered in Maine for many years.
Senator Collins said, “It is deeply troubling when a senior falls victim to financial exploitation, but even more egregious when the perpetrator is a family member, caregiver, or trusted advisor.” Senator Collins went on to explain that many of these cases are never reported because the victim is too ashamed to report financial exploitation, particularly when it involves a family member, and the victims often do not want their relatives to be criminally prosecuted.
“This financial loss can undermine both the health of older Americans and their financial security,” added Senator Collins.
The Senator pointed to the Senior$afe program in Maine as an example of an innovative program created to combat financial exploitation of seniors. Senior$afe is a collaborative effort by Maine’s regulators, financial institutions, and legal organizations to educate bank and credit unions employees about how to identify and help stop financial exploitation of older Mainers.
Judith Shaw, who also serves as Co-chair of the Maine Council for Elder Abuse Prevention cited a 2010 Investor Protection Trust Elder Fraud Survey indicating that one out of every five citizens over the age of 65 has been victimized by financial fraud. Ms. Shaw described financial exploitation of seniors as a “community problem that requires a holistic, community solution.” Shaw said that “we must identify those who are best positioned to identify red flags early on and encourage reporting and referrals to appropriate local, county, state, and federal agencies, including law enforcement.”
Philip Marshall said that his grandmother, who was a well-known philanthropist and was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton, would never wanted to have been known as “one of America’s most famous cases of elder abuse.” But despite her strong commitment to philanthropic work, her greatest legacy, according to Marshall, could be that her case has helped raise awareness of senior financial abuse.
Wednesday’s hearing, titled “Broken Trust: Combating Financial Exploitation of Vulnerable Seniors,” is a continuation of the work the Senate Special Committee on Aging has done to aggressively fight fraud and financial schemes targeting seniors. Additional witnesses included, Kathleen Quinn, Executive Director of the National Adult Protective Services Association; and Page Ulrey, Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney, Elder Abuse team, King County, Washington.