The financial exploitation of older adults was a serious problem before the pandemic, but it’s ballooned in the years since COVID-19 began its rapid spread in March 2020. A new report from AARP finds that the rate of such exploitation between then and now has more than doubled.
That includes a huge uptick in losses from romance scams, with perpetrators stealing more than $547 million in 2021, five times greater than the amount stolen in 2019.
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And these figures probably understate the number of financial fraud incidents, which are woefully underreported: Only 1 in 44 older adult victims tell the authorities when they’ve been financially exploited, according to the report. And they’re least likely to notify authorities when they’ve been victimized by someone they know and trust — something that happens more commonly than many people may realize.
“We need more consumers to report these crimes so we can better quantify how large and impactful they are, but equally important is that we help the industry spot and stop financial exploitation before the money leaves the account,” says Jilenne Gunther, national director of AARP’s BankSafe Initiative™ and lead author on the report.
Some data suggests that family members and trusted others steal more money than strangers do, with the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau estimating that family members steal more than twice as much money as strangers.
Victims are often too embarrassed to come forward, blaming themselves for the financial loss. Yet “they need to understand that these crimes can happen to anyone,” notes Kathy Stokes, AARP director of fraud prevention programs.“It’s not their fault.”
The report, which AARP developed in collaboration with NORC (an independent research and data analysis organization) at the University of Chicago, examines how criminals’ tactics have evolved over the past few years, and urges the financial industry to work even harder to thwart them.