By Mark Wolf
Why do people prey financially on the elderly? Corey Carlisle cited the Willie Sutton analogy: "Because that's where the money is."
Carlisle, senior vice president for bank community engagement at the American Bankers Association, presented during an NCSL Capitol Forum session on financial exploitation of the elderly.
About 70 percent of bank deposits are held by older customers, he said, and every eight seconds, 10,000 Americans turn 65. Isolation, aging issues and health put seniors at a particular risk of fraud.
"We're seeing very innovative scams and when someone is victimized it is so difficult to recover," he said.
A new NCSL report, addresses the issue: "While exact statistics on how often financial crimes against the elderly occur are not available, it is widely believed to be underreported by the victims. A recent study published by MetLife Mature Market Institute estimates the financial loss by victims of elder financial crimes and exploitation exceeds $2.9 billion dollars annually.
Elder financial abuse often overlaps with issues involving caregiving and guardianship, said Diana Noel, senior legislative representative for AARP.
The problem is "very broad, with many tentacles and it pretty much stretches across every branch of government," said Noel. "The lack of data and good research on this issue is huge. It's really underreported and a lot of money has been stolen from seniors."
State courts are taking on a more active role, she said, and cited President Donald Trump's recent signing of the Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act, which is aimed at increasing the justice department's response to victims.
Texas instituted a Guardianship Compliance Program in November 2015 and worked with 39 courts in 25 counties, said David Slayton, administrative director for the Texas Office of Court Administration.
Of 23,224 guardianship cases reviewed, 15,319 were recommended for closure and 2,807 deceased persons were found to be under guardianship. Thirty two percent of cases were found to be missing reports of the person and 44 percent were found to be missing annual accountings.
"The problem is at least as bad as you think it is and probably worse than you think it is," said Slayton. The vast majority of the guardians were friends or family "not taking care of people like they should."
Slayton said the review found guardians who were making two pickup truck payments for a person who couldn't drive, were buying refrigerators, making large gifts to family members and paying off credit care.
"You need to spot this fast," he said. "The first year it's a couple of hundred dollars, then a couple of thousand. We have a case where the guardians misappropriated an airplane."
Mark Wolf is the editor of the NCSL Blog.