While the hazards of elder financial exploitation (EFE) for older adults are well documented, factors underlying differences in public awareness of EFE are not. EFE is the theft or misuse of an older person’s money, property, or belongings. EFE is the most common form of mistreatment reported by Americans ages 60 and older, with past year prevalence rates ranging from 5.2% to 7.3% depending on EFE type.
This study contributes to the scant research on public awareness of EFE by being the first to establish national estimates of what Americans ages 18+ know about how to detect, prevent and intervene in such crimes against older adults. Understanding what different segments of the American population already knows is key to effectively tailoring EFE prevention programs to educate people of different ages, ethnicities, genders, and socioeconomic backgrounds.
Many Americans Have Observed One or More Types of EFE
Respondents were asked, “Are you aware of an older person in your family or community who has experienced any of the following?” and provided with a list of four ways in which a senior might be exploited financially: (1) identity theft (gaining access to a senior’s personal information to take money or property for one’s own benefit), (2) theft of money or property, (3) scams, such as investment scams or sweepstakes fraud, and (4) power of attorney abuse (gaining legal representation over a senior and using it to take property or other assets for one’s own benefit). According to our study, 62% of American adults ages 18-95 report that they are aware of an older person in their family or community who has experienced one or more types of EFE. This includes 41% of Americans who report they are aware of an older person in their family or community who has experienced theft of money or property. There is also a relatively high level of awareness among Americans of scams (38%), identity theft (27%), and power of attorney abuse (22%).
Most Americans Do Not Know That They Should Contact Adult Protective Services If They Suspect Elder Financial Exploitation
High rates of observed EFE underscore the importance of making sure that people know how to detect, prevent and intervene in EFE. Our study also strongly suggests that one focus of awareness raising efforts should be to inform the public about whom to contact if they suspect EFE. Our study found that only half of respondents (56%) indicated they would know whom to contact if they suspected an older family member or close friend was being financially exploited. When provided a list of potential contact options, respondents most frequently indicated that they would contact the police (39%). Adult protective services was selected as a reporting option by less than a third (31%), and just under a quarter of respondents indicated they would contact a friend or family member (23%). Fewer indicated they would contact a lawyer (18%) or a doctor (8%).
Analyses are based on original data collected from a nationally representative sample of adults ages 18-95 (N = 1,042) in the United States. Data were collected using the AmeriSpeak Omnibus Survey in December 2015 by researchers at NORC at the University of Chicago. AmeriSpeak is a mixed-mode (web and phone) probability based panel, designed for use by academic and government researchers. The original survey module included six multi-component questions, which yielded 24 variables about different types of EFE. Demographic and financial literacy data facilitate comparisons across subgroups. Both raw and weighted data were delivered in SPSS and SAS by the AmeriSpeak team to the project team.