Financial Exploitation of the Elderly

Financial exploitation of elders is complex and, in some instances, accompanied by other forms of elder mistreatment. On this page find:

Incidence of Financial Exploitation

The United States has no national reporting mechanism to track the financial exploitation of elders, but a 1998 study by the National Center on Elder Abuse, financial abuse accounted for about 12 percent of all elder abuse reported nationally in 1993 and 1994 and 30 percent of substantiated elder abuse reported submitted to Adult Protective Services in 1996 after excluding reports of self-neglect. [1]

A 2000 survey of the National Association of Adult Protective Services Administrators conducted for the National Center on Elder Abuse found that financial exploitation comprised 13 percent of the mistreatment allegations investigated. Many experts in the field, however, believe that the level of elder exploitation may well exceed what has been reported to authorities and documented by researchers. [2]

Characteristics of Financial Exploitation

NIJ-funded researchers examined two sets of data to determine some of the differences between:

  1. Cases where an elderly person was the victim of financial exploitation.
  2. Cases where an elderly person was the victim of both financial exploitation and neglect or physical abuse.

How the Research Was Done

Researchers examined data from all adult protective services cases in Virginia from 2005 to 2007 with victims aged 60 and older. They also conducted an in-depth assessment of 54 cases. The in-depth assessment included interviews with adult protective services caseworkers, victims, and a third party who knew the victim but was not involved in the case.

Financial exploitation combined with neglect or abuse is referred to as hybrid financial exploitation. [3]

They found that the characteristics and dynamics of the two types of cases (pure financial exploitation and hybrid financial exploitation) vary depending on the type of exploitation involved.

The data revealed several differences between the two types of cases.

Of the 54 cases studied in-depth, 38 were financial exploitation alone, and 16 were hybrid financial exploitation.

The researchers identified two types of independence — physical and financial. Physically independent elders were able to care for themselves. They could drive, were cognitively intact and physically healthy. Financially independent elders had the financial assets to cover their needs and often owned their homes. Elderly victims who were physically and financially independent were more likely to experience pure financial exploitation. 

Elderly victims experiencing hybrid financial exploitation (that is, financial exploitation along with abuse or neglect) tended to be financially independent but were physically dependent. They had significant health problems, were unable to drive and were to some degree dependent on others for assistance.

Understanding Elder Abuse

In the NIJ Research in Brief, Understanding Elder Abuse (pdf, 40 pages), the authors emphasize the importance of developing new theories of elder abuse and of looking critically at current theories to increase our understanding and guide future research.

Victims of hybrid financial exploitation were more likely than victims of pure financial exploitation to have:

  • Been victimized by a relative.
  • Experienced abuse multiple times over a longer period of time (123 months vs. 32 months for victims of financial exploitation alone without neglect or abuse).
  • Suffered a negative health consequence, financial loss, a disruption in social relationships, or some combination of these as a consequence of their victimization.

Based on the larger dataset of all reported cases in Virginia, the researchers identified a number of characteristics of the 472 victims of financial exploitation. These victims:

  • Were independent. Independent elders were 66 percent more likely to experience pure financial exploitation (without accompanying neglect or abuse) than the victims who were dependent.
  • Were not experiencing dementia or confusion. Elders who were not experiencing dementia or confusion were 29 percent more likely to experience pure financial exploitation than the victims who were experiencing dementia or confusion.
  • Had abusers who were not overburdened in providing social support. Elders with abusers who perceived that they had reliable social support were 88 percent more likely to experience pure financial exploitation compared to victims with abusers with overburdened social support.

The researchers also found that the 162 victims of hybrid financial exploitation (financial exploitation plus neglect or abuse) were 81 percent more likely to experience hybrid exploitation when the abuser did not provide financial support to the victim, but the victim did provide financial support to the perpetrator.


[1] National Center on Elder Abuse. "The National Elder Abuse Incidence Study." Final report to the Administration on Children and Families and Administration on Aging, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Grant No. 90–AM–0660, 1998.
23(4): Summer 2002. Washington, DC: American Bar Association.

[2] Teaster, P.B. A Respon​se to the Abuse of Vulnerable Adults: The 2000 Survey of State Adult Protective Service. Washington, DC: National Center on Elder Abuse, 2003.

[3] Jackson, Shelly, Thomas L. Hafemesiter, Financial Abuse of Elderly People vs. Other Forms of Elder Abuse: Assessing Their Dynamics, Risk Factors, and Society's Response (pdf, 608 pages), Final report to the National Institute of Justice,  grant number 2006-WG-BX=0010, February 2011, NCJ 233613.

Date Modified: January 5, 2011