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Physicians Urged to Be Alert for Signs of Elder Financial Abuse

Doctor consulting with senior patientSenior citizens have long been the target of unscrupulous investment scam artists. This is especially true of seniors who have mild cognitive impairment. According to the June 2010 Investor Protection Elder Fraud Survey, 7.3 million older Americans—one out of every five citizens over the age of 65—has already been victimized by a financial swindle. The survey also found that half of older Americans exhibit one or more of the warning signs of current financial victimization. For example, more than 37% report being currently pitched by "people (who) are calling me or mailing me asking for money, lotteries, and other schemes." Yet only 19% of adult children believe that their parents are being pressured in such a fashion!

Of particular concern are seniors with mild cognitive impairment, who can perform most daily functions, but have trouble or become confused with other tasks, such as following their medicine regimen and managing their finances. A 2008 Duke University study found that about 35% of the 25 million people over age 71 in the U.S. either have mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s disease. This makes them especially vulnerable to financial exploitation, including investment fraud. And researchers at the University of Alabama in Birmingham and University of Iowa have shown that older persons with cognitive impairment are more prone to make financial errors and are more willing to gamble with their money.

Lynn Koontz, president of the National Adult Protective Services Association, confirms this finding. "Adult Protective Services professionals are the first responders to elder financial abuse, so they see the devastation these crimes wreak in older persons’ lives every day," she said.

New campaign to educate public about a growing problem

To address this vulnerability, 24 securities regulators have joined in the national Elder Investment Fraud and Financial Exploitation Prevention Program. This unprecedented effort will educate thousands of U.S. medical professionals about how to identify older Americans who may be particularly vulnerable to investment fraud abuse, and then to refer these at-risk patients to state securities regulators and adult services professionals. The project’s Clinician’s Pocket Guide outlines common red flags, provides suggestions on how healthcare professionals can raise the topic with elder patients, tells how to protect against elder investment fraud, and where to get help.

"Red flags" in the Pocket Guide include social isolation, dependence on another to provide care, and a caregiver who is overly protective and dominates the elder patient. The Guide suggests that healthcare providers begin the conversation with a question such as "We find that some older adults worry about money; may I ask you a few questions about this?"

"We now know that a shockingly large number of older Americans are already victims of financial swindles and millions more are in danger of being exploited in such a fashion," said Don Blandin, president and CEO of the Investor Protection Trust and Investor Protection Institute. "Given that front-line medical professionals who deal everyday with older Americans are ideally positioned to spot the impaired mental capacity that can leave seniors vulnerable to financial abuse, our new program seeks to inform doctors, nurses, and others about the warning signs of elder investment fraud and financial exploitation. Our goal is to improve the communication among medical professionals, older Americans, adult children, and state securities regulators in order to head off financial swindles before the damage is done."

“Many aspects of normal aging and disease can contribute to older adults’ vulnerability to elderly investment fraud and other financial abuse,” says Dr. Robert Roush of the Huffington Center on Aging, Baylor College of Medicine. “This is no ‘commentary’ on seniors and their judgment; it is a simple medical fact of life. Knowing that there are medical reasons that increase the likelihood of success for investment swindles targeting so many older Americans, we have two choices: we can ignore that fact and allow the problem to go on, or we can figure out how to enlist medical and adult services professionals to be part of the solution."

Learn More

For more information about the EIder Investment Fraud and Financial Expolitation Prevention Program, and to read about the investor fraud survey, visit the Investor Protection Trust website, which includes consumer information and an online video about elder investment fraud. The Clinician's Pocket Guide can also be downloaded from the site.

Based on a successful pilot program in the state of Texas, the Elder Investment Fraud and Financial Exploitation Prevention Program is a collaboration between the Investor Protection Trust, the Investor Protection Institute, the North American Securities Administrators Association, and the National Adult Protective Services Association, in cooperation with leading U.S. medical associations, including the American Academy of Family Physicians, American College of Physicians, American Geriatrics Society, National Area Health Education Center Organization, and the National Association of Geriatric Education Centers. This program was created by the Baylor College of Medicine with grant funding from the Investor Protection Trust.

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