Financial abuse robbed elder Americans of an estimated $2.9 billion last year, up 12 percent from 2008, according to a MetLife Mature Market Institute study released in June. That statistic may only continue to climb if the government neglects to regulate the home-care service industry.
Because of the sour economy and increasing number of Baby Boomers, financial crimes committed by trusted caregivers are on the rise, The Crime Report noted Thursday. Even if they have an extensive rap sheet, they can walk right through their victims' front doors, since only 28 states require that private aides get licensed, according to the California Alliance.
"It's a common misconception that if someone holds themselves out to be a caregiver they must have been checked by someone, somewhere. When, in fact, they have not," Jeff Lesowski, a senior deputy district attorney in Washington County, told The Oregonian.
While non-profit and state-level adult protective agencies are safer bets since there is more oversight, funding cuts have hindered them from adequately serving the aging population, The New York Times reported in March.
The Guardian Project, for example, a non-profit that serves elderly and disabled New Yorkers, has been able to aid only 200 clients since it opened it 2005, because it runs on a meager $1.2 million budget, The Crime Report noted.
"Scores of helpless, frail people have collectively been physically abused, had their life savings depleted, and lost their homes due to the unscrupulous acts of guardians," Laura Negron, the organization's director, remarked later on in the article.
Such financial abuse cases span the country and the wealth spectrum.
Back in March, legendary actor Mickey Rooney, 90, told a Special Senate Committee on Aging how "trapped, scared, used and frustrated," he felt when a family member abused him emotionally, physically and financially, The Associated Press reported.
California--where Rooney obtained a restraining order against his stepson, according to The Associated Press--doesn't currently require private caregivers to get licensed. The state, however, is pursuing The Home Care Services Act of 2011, which could potentially clean up the industry.
The act would require the Department of Public Health to license private aides and perform background checks, among a number of other safety precautions.
Still, even New York, which requires licensing, sees a high incidence of financial abuse among seniors. "Under The Radar: The New York State Prevalence Study," published in May, found that 41 per 1,000 seniors surveyed were victims of major financial exploitation. That crime, which occurred at the highest rate, includes theft, using items without permission and misleading to get money, bank cards, accounts and power of attorney.
While preventative measures are critical, the elderly will likely remain desirable and easy targets unless the government implements punitive measures, too.
Chairman of the Special Committee on Aging, Senator Herb Kohl (D-Wis.) reintroduced the Elder Abuse Act in March, The New York Times reported, which could possibly accomplish just that by strengthening law enforcement responses to abuse.
"Financial exploitation against the elderly is very prevalent right now," said Sharon Merriman-Nai, project director for the National Center on Elder Abuse, in a recent ABC story on the topic. "The elderly have assets. They've had their lifetime to acquire savings and property."