Personal Finance: Widespread Elder Fraud Sparks Responses

In  2006, on a visit to his grandmother, Philip Marshall encountered a harrowing scene: He found his grandmother, the philanthropist and socialite Brooke Astor, living in cold, dirty conditions and isolated from her friends by her son — Philip's father — Anthony Marshall.


Anthony, he felt, had been attempting to rob his mentally ailing mother of millions of dollars.


And after the sensational case went to trial, the elder Marshall was convicted of grand larceny and other criminal charges.


The high-profile case, and others like it, have helped cast a spotlight on elder fraud. But signs show — even as more alarms about the problem sound, and responses spring up — that the elder fraud remains acute.


According to a 2016 survey by Allianz Life Insurance Co. of North America, 37% of active caregivers said the elder in their care has experienced financial abuse or exploitation with a loss. In 40% of those cases, it happened more than once.


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"It's an epidemic," holds Philip Marshall, a professor at Roger Williams University, who is now a national advocate for fighting elder fraud.


And most often, the perpetrators are family members. Indeed, in a 2015 survey, the highest percentage — 71% — of financial advisors surveyed at Merrill Lynch Wealth Management, cited a client's child as the potential culprit when elder abuse was suspected. The second most likely potential perpetrators were caregivers, followed by anonymous fraudsters.


Experts say seniors who are socially isolated and/or in mental decline can be especially susceptible. The abuse can leave victims traumatized as well as financially harmed, or even ruined. Consider: A 2015 survey by True Life Financial reveals that U.S. seniors lose $36.48 billion annually to elder financial abuse.