While there’s been an increasing number of disturbing scams that have robbed people of their hard-earned cash or tricked them into handing over personal information, an alarming new report shows it’s actually family members who are more likely to perpetrate financial elder abuse than strangers. Researchers from the University of Southern California in the United States found that while fraudsters are becoming particularly smarter when it comes to telephone, mail and internet scams to swindle older people out of money, people also need to be aware that their loved ones could be stealing their savings.
Using data that recorded instances of elder abuse reported to the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) in the US, researchers were able to distinguish the most common types of elder abuse and identify the alleged perpetrators. The NCEA provides people within the US information on how to identify and report elder abuse.
The study, published in the Journal of Applied Gerontology, found that of the 2,000 calls recorded as part of the study, more than 42 per cent alleged abuse. What’s more is the most common abuse perpetrated by family was financial abuse at 61.8 per cent, followed by emotional abuse at 35 per cent.
The results found that 20 per cent of people experienced neglect, 12 per cent had been physically abused and 0.3 per cent had been sexually abused. More than 32 per cent of people claimed they experienced multiple types of abuse.
“We expected to find that financial abuse was the most common abuse reported,” the study’s lead author Gail Weissberger said in a statement. “But despite the high rates of financial exploitation perpetrated by scammers targeting older adults, we found that family members were the most commonly alleged perpetrators of financial abuse.”
Weissberger added: “In fact, across all abuse types, with the exception of sexual abuse and self-neglect, abuse by a family member was the most commonly reported.”
The study claimed the results highlight the need for more resources for people who think they may be the victim of financial abuse and that more needs to be done to stop abuse from happening in the first place.
“The results highlight the importance of developing effective strategies to prevent future abuse,” Weissberger said. “Our next step is to conduct more studies targeting high-risk individuals and to better understand additional risk factors.”
According to statistics from the Australian Human Rights Commission, between two and 10 per cent of older Australians experience elder abuse each year. It found that an increasing number of older people have access to substantial wealth and that they can face pressure from other family members to share that wealth with them.
“Financial abuse occurs when a person you trust uses that relationship of trust to gain access to your money or property,” the organisation said. “Sometimes the people pressuring you for money or abusing your trust are your children or good friends. Financial abuse can take many different forms.”
For example, some loved ones may pressure a person to act as a guarantor for a loan or pressure relatives to transfer or cell their home. Others may ask to take a loan out in a person’s name for someone else to repay or even pressure people to give their money away.
Others may find that they’ve loaned loved ones money that doesn’t get paid back or that people are simply taking their money without their permission.
The Australian Human Rights Commission recommends people who believe they are being financially abused to seek independent legal advice, to think about what’s at stake if they do offer to help loved ones out, to ensure any money being loaned can be paid back, to get any loans written down as evidence and not to be afraid to say no.
There are also various organisations in each state and territory that can assist with any questions, such as the Elder Abuse Prevention Unit in Queensland, the NSW Elder Abuse Helpline in New South Wales and Senior Rights Victoria.
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