Who would want to hurt a sweet little old lady? Or steal from a harmless old curmudgeon? Apparently, a lot of people do.

According to the Minnesota Elder Justice Center, one in ten adults over 60 is a victim of elder abuse. Worse yet, a recent study sponsored by Allianz Insurance indicates an even higher incidence. The research found nearly one-third of elderly Americans have been victimized by some form of financial fraud alone. “It’s clear that elder financial abuse is becoming more commonplace, and, it appears to be greater than we thought in scope and impact,” explained Allianz CEO Walter White.

To make matters worse, the perpetrators of financial exploitation of senior citizens are often family members, friends or other trusted adults who have an existing on-going relationship with the victim.

What kind of society robs from its own grandmas and grandpas?

The truth is we don’t know the full extent of physical, mental, emotional or financial elder abuse, because masses of cases go unreported and undetected. Many victims remain in denial, are too embarrassed or ashamed to admit their vulnerability, are afraid of retaliation, or feel the subject is too personal and private (family business) to go public. Other barriers to reporting include ageism and excessive false pride. This lack of reporting is allowing crimes against older people to become an “invisible epidemic.”

In many ways, elder abuse is the new frontier for fraud in America. There are more older adults living longer, with more money than ever before. And many are physically, mentally or emotionally compromised. This makes seniors tempting targets for an assortment of abuses including scams, extortion, identity theft, physical or sexual assault, neglect, bullying, emotional abuse and, even, spiritual abuse. Unfortunately, where one form of abuse exists, there are usually other forms as well.

Based on this data, it’s almost certain that I know someone who has experienced elder abuse. You probably do too. Yet, I don’t know who these victims are. The victims may not know it themselves. Maybe no one knows.

Someone should know! That’s the only way that this societal sickness will be surfaced and solved. That’s why the Elder Justice Center wants everyone to know that it’s OK to report and talk about suspected elder exploitation. The signs to look for range from physical evidence (e.g. bruises, unexplained accidents, etc.) and financial clues (e.g. unusual withdrawals) to changes in personality and social isolation.

The experts all agree that anyone who suspects elder abuse should report it. It’s easy—just contact the Minnesota Elder Justice Center at 651-410-9304 or the Department of Human Services at 844-880-1574. Elder abuse can only be as rampant as we allow it to be. So we need to step up, stand up and speak up against elder exploitation—and speak loud enough for legislators, lawyers, litigators and law enforcement to hear. Noise attracts attention; and attention is the first step to action.

After all, most seniors have spent a good deal of their adult life looking out for others; now, it’s time for others to help look out for them.

Bob Ramsey is a lifelong educator, freelance writer and advocate for “Vital Aging.” He can be contacted at 952-922-9558 or by email at joyrammini@comcast.net.

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