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Forensic Accountants Can Provide Aid to Elderly Victims of Financial Abuse

S.J. Steinhardt
Published Date:
May 9, 2024

GettyImages-456868049 Old Man Elderly Elder Window

Forensic accountants can help protect elderly people who may be subjected to financial abuse, Accounting Today reported.

Seniors lost over $3.4 billion to elder fraud in 2023, the FBI reported, an 11 percent increase from 2022. Older adults lose more than $36 billion to financial fraud every year, the Better Business Bureau estimated in 2019.

Despite these numbers, there is a lack of research on fraud victimization of older adults, according to the the National Institute of Justice, the research, development and evaluation agency of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Karen Webber, a partner at the Bonadio Group in Pittsford, N,Y., works with government agencies and law enforcement to investigate cases that involve financial exploitation of seniors. Her investigations can involve gathering financial records, such as banking, credit card and brokerage account statements, or real estate documents to determine happened to an older adult's money over a period of time.

"It's a lot of tracing, it's a lot of looking at patterns—not only patterns of where the money went but also patterns of money coming in," said Webber. "If we know an older adult's income is supposed to be X, are we seeing that deposit? Are we seeing Social Security deposited every month? If we know they rent out a unit or have rental property, do we see that rent income deposited every month and, if not, where's it going? If an individual sold their house in the last year, do we see those deposits? Do we see those proceeds getting deposited in the bank account? And if it's missing, where did it go? We're looking at patterns of transactions that exist in the bank statements, but we're also looking for what's not there."

Webber told Accounting Today of some egregious cases of abuse and exploitation of seniors that she has seen, such as a caregiver stealing a million dollars from an older adult, then fleeing to the Philippines to avoid prosecution. There are also cases of co-occurring abuse, in which family members move into an elderly person's house, not necessarily taking money, but using up the resources of the older adult.

There is also a long-term health impact of financial abuse. Victims are more likely to rely on government assistance,” Webber said. “They have increased isolation because they're removed from the close relationship to the perpetrators."

Webber cited a 2011 study by Mark Lachs of Weill Cornell Medical Center that found that victims of abuse are '"three times more likely to die within three years than elders of similar age and medical and social circumstances who have not been mistreated."

"There's increased depression and suicide, and even worse, five-year mortality for victims of financial abuse is tied with victims of neglect," Webber said. "Stealing someone's money results five years down the road in the same end as someone who was neglected."

Seniors often feel ashamed that they've been financially exploited and are reluctant to report it, especially if a close family member was involved. "They don't want to admit that they've been exploited," said Webber. "Another thing a lot of people don't know is that financial acuity in general peaks in your early 50s. So, from your early 50s, for the rest of your life, your financial decision-making is declining, whether you recognize it or not. That's even without a dementia diagnosis."

For accountants who want to get involved in this area, Webber recommended training materials from the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACE) and the AICPA

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