Financial Exploitation of the Elderly in a Consumer Context

Project Dates: 

National studies document that financial exploitation (e.g., fraud victimization) of elderly consumers has become an increasingly prominent problem, one likely to assume greater urgency as larger proportions of Americans enter the ranks of the elderly. Indeed, all 50 states have enacted elder abuse statutes, many of which focus on addressing financial exploitation of the elderly. Yet, remarkably little is known about the (1) true prevalence of elderly fraud victimization, save that it appears to be greatly underreported, (2) the risk and protective factors, other than physical limitations, associated with such victimization, or (3) what is effective in reducing it. These significant gaps make it difficult to develop effective policies. Which types of frauds are most common, and what are risk factors should be targeted in reducing them? Compared to the national average, the population of citizens age 60 and older is significantly higher in the states of Arizona and Florida. These population characteristics, coupled with current crime prevention efforts by both states’ Attorneys General, point to a unique opportunity to shed light on financial exploitation and, more pointedly, to provide guidance to these and other states on how they might best focus their efforts to reduce such victimization. To this end, we propose a timely and cost-effective, multi-method study to address these important research and policy gaps. The study’s goals are to provide policymakers, practitioners, and researchers with a greater, empirically-based understanding of the distribution and causes of, as well as solutions to financial exploitation of the elderly in a consumer context. The objectives are: (1) To determine the nature, incidence, and prevalence of fraud victimization among elderly consumers in Arizona and Florida; (2) To identify risk and protective factors associated with fraud victimization in this population; and (3) To evaluate the effectiveness of service providers, including assessment of the elderly population’s awareness of state based programs, barriers to and facilitators of program use, and impacts on victimization.

This 2-year study includes a telephone survey of 1,000 Arizonians and 1,000 Floridians over the age of 60, as well as interviews with elder service providers. We will examine (1) indicators of the nature and prevalence of financial exploitation, including identification of the victim offender relationship and dollar amount lost; (2) risk and protective factors (e.g., financial risktaking, trust propensity, lifestyle characteristics, routine consumer activities, and personal characteristics); and (3) respondents’ awareness and use of state Attorney General services, including assessment of potential barriers to and facilitators of program use, as well as  reporting behavior to law enforcement and perceptions of law enforcement responsiveness. The research team will conduct descriptive, bivariate, and multivariate analyses. Particular emphasis will be given to identifying theoretically-informed variables that predict fraud victimization and reporting behavior. Regression analyses will allow us to identify risk and protective factors that increase or decrease the likelihood of fraud victimization and reporting. Data obtained from semi-structured interviews with service provider staff will help identify barriers to and facilitators of program success. The final products will include the final report and policy brief to be distributed to law enforcement and service providers; a summary of findings for the Arizona and Florida Offices of the Attorney General; presentations at the National Institute of Justice and professional conferences; articles for submission to academic journals; and all required deliverables.

Research Staff

Kristy Holtfreter, Ph.D.
Principal Investigator

Michael Reisig, Ph.D.
Co-Principal Investigator