The surprising source behind financial elder abuse, according to researchers

The person most likely to commit financial abuse against your older family members isn’t an online scammer — it’s you.

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Family members were the most commonly identified perpetrators of financial abuse reported to the National Center on Elder Abuse resource line, according to a new study published in the Journal of Applied Gerontology.

Researchers from Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California found that financial abuse was the most common type reported to the resource line, accounting for nearly 55 percent of abuse calls. The callers identified their abusers as family members 47 percent of the time, making family members the most frequently reported perpetrators.

Elder abuse contributes to more than $5.3 billion in U.S. health care costs each year, the researchers said.

Gali Weissberger, the lead author of the study, said researchers weren’t surprised to find financial abuse was the most common type, but they didn’t necessarily expect family members to be responsible so often.

“We expected to find that financial abuse was the most common abuse reported,” Weissberger said. “But despite the high rates of financial exploitation perpetrated by scammers targeting older adults, we found that family members were the most commonly alleged perpetrators of financial abuse. In fact, across all abuse types, with the exception of sexual abuse and self-neglect, abuse by a family member was the most commonly reported.”

The researchers went through three years of calls, emails and messages to the NCEA hotline. They said elder abuse affects an estimated one in 10 older adults each year, but it often goes underreported.

Some callers reported multiple types of abuse or multiple abusers, the study found. Physical abuse was most likely to occur with another type.

Duke Han, an associate professor of family medicine at the Keck School, said the NCEA hotline provides information and resources about elder abuse to the public.

“Our findings highlight the importance of resource lines for those seeking information on elder abuse, as many calls were made to understand whether certain situations reflected abuse,” Han said.

Weissberger said the researchers plan to work on identifying risk factors for elder abuse.

“The results highlight the importance of developing effective strategies to prevent future abuse,” Weissberger said.

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The NCEA said serious, threatening or dangerous situations of suspected elder abuse should be reported to local police. The number for the NCEA resource line is 855-500-3537.