Research reveals the shocking, most common source of financial abuse against the elderly

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When it comes to scamming the elderly, a new study finds that acts of financial abuse are coming more from family members than strangers. While there are a slew of phone, mail, and internet-based scams aimed squarely at the elderly, the data collected and analyzed by researchers pointed the finger at family members when it came to taking their money.

Researchers at the University of California used data collected by the National Center on Elder Abuse resource telephone line for the study. The resource had addressed instances of elder abuse reported to that hotline.

The findings

Of the nearly 2,000 calls logged for the study, over 42% alleged abuse. Of that abuse, financial abusive was the most common, at 55%.

As far as could be determined, family members were the most frequently identified perpetrators of alleged abuse at 48%. The most common type of abuse perpetrated by family members was financial abuse (61.8%) followed by emotional abuse (35%), neglect (20.1%), and physical abuse (12%.)

“We expected to find that financial abuse was the most common abuse reported,” said lead author Dr. Gali Weissberger, in a release. “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. 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.”

One in 10 older Americans suffers from elder abuse each year, but many instances are not reported.

Researchers say that further research is needed, as the data they used for the study was limited by “selection bias” – meaning the data was from people choosing to call the hotline.

“The results highlight the importance of developing effective strategies to prevent future abuse,” Weissberger says. “Our next step is to conduct more studies targeting high-risk individuals and to better understand additional risk factors.

The findings are published in the Journal of Applied Gerontology, by lead author Gali H. Weissberger, Ph.D., postdoctoral scholar in the Han Research Lab at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine.