Reports of financial exploitation of older adults through theft or scams have increased “dramatically” over the past six years, according to a new analysis of Bank Secrecy Act reporting by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, a bureau of the Treasury Department.

Monthly “suspicious activity report” filings related to those aged 65 or more years increased from approximately 2,000 in 2013 to a peak of almost 7,500 in August 2019, the last month included in the analysis. Dollars involved in the filings totaled more than $2.2 billion in 2014 and, in 2019, with only a partial year of data, were more than $5 billion through August.

The yearly average total suspicious activity dollar amount reported per SAR fluctuated over time, with the highest average amount, $70,809, reported for 2015, and the lowest average amount of $40,790 reported in 2017. In 2019, the amount was $62,232.

Financial institutions generally are required to file SARs when they know or suspect that illegal activity is occurring in their transactions.

Thefts often involve relatives

Thirty-eight percent of SARs were reports of thefts, with the amounts stolen or at risk of being stolen averaging $50,084 and $15,964 being the median amount.

Older adults’ finances are most vulnerable to theft from individuals they know or rely on for their well-being, the analysis found. Family members (46%) and nonfamily member caregivers (19%) most often are implicated in such thefts, with victims frequently having some type of incapacitation, such as cognitive decline or paralysis, according to the 10-page report.

Three major scams identified

Scams were involved in 36% of the SARs. Several major scam categories were identified:

  • Romance scams (26% of reported scam cases): Scammers establish a romantic relationship with their victims and then request money for “hardships” they experience or to “visit” the victim (but they never do).
  • Emergency/Person-in-need scams (25%): Scammers prey on victims’ emotional vulnerability by claiming to be a loved one who needs money quickly to help with an emergency.
  • Prize/Lottery scams (25%): Scammers coerce their victims into sending an “import tax” or “fee” to receive the money they supposedly have won in a lottery. 

The average activity amount in the scam-related SARs was $25,432, whereas the median was $6,105.