By Liz Loewy
As a former elder abuse prosecutor in a large District Attorney’s Office, I witnessed firsthand the devastating effects of fraud in later life. The hundreds of elder financial exploitation cases I handled had a number of things in common. First, many of the cases involved older victims who weren’t able to testify, either because they were anxious, confused, or because they suffered from some degree of cognitive impairment–which was likely why they were targeted in the first place. Another common theme was the duration and scope of the fraudulent activity. It usually occurred over a period of months or years across accounts and institutions, until it was finally discovered by the financial institution, the victim, or a caregiver. Exploiters of vulnerable seniors are adept at flying under the radar, taking advantage of the fact that banks and firms don’t routinely identify suspicious patterns or analyze aggregated data from outside their own institution. This may be why nearly one in five seniors has been exploited and the average loss is more than $120,000. Finally, in almost every case of financial abuse, the victim’s system for monitoring financial accounts was sorely lacking.
Protecting the financial health of an aging population has never been more critical. 10,000 Americans now turn 65 every day, and those who reach that age are expected to live at least another 20 years. But with the increase in life expectancy, challenges like dementia threaten our loved ones’ financial independence and quality of life. Although seniors now hold over 70% of the wealth in the US, one in three of them will die with some form of dementia–usually Alzheimer’s disease. And there is a widening gap between the number of available caregivers and those who will require care.
Is there a solution? Howard Tischler, a serial technology entrepreneur whose own mother lost her life savings to unscrupulous telemarketers, convinced me that the answer is yes. Upon hearing about the large number of elder fraud cases that made their way to my desk after going undetected for years, Tischler recognized that technology involving machine learning could scale financial protection to meet the needs of the burgeoning senior demographic. Fintech could establish a personal financial profile for individuals and then analyze activity–across checking, savings, investment, retirement, and credit card accounts, and monitor credit report data as well. Comprehensive alerts might suggest that fraud is occurring, or that there are issues related to the senior’s financial capacity–such as unpaid bills, missing regular deposits, or redundant charges. Suspicious activity alerts could be sent to the senior, as well as their designated advocates, such as trusted family members, professionals, or both. A truly effective monitoring tool should alert not just account holders, but financial caregivers–many of whom don’t reside with the senior but are willing to serve as an “extra set of eyes” from afar. Howard and I developed the concept of EverSafe, which provides this kind of holistic monitoring and provides expert assistance with remediation and identity restoration, when necessary.
There is one last thing that the elder financial abuse cases I handled as a prosecutor had in common. Most of the older adults who were exploited died within a year after being informed that they had been victimized. According to research, fraud in later life has one of the highest mortality rates of any form of elder abuse–higher than physical assault and domestic violence. This may be the most compelling reason for financial institutions and consumers to utilize innovative fintech: to ensure that our parents and grandparents grow old with their finances and their dignity intact.