On February 27, 2019, the CFPB announced the release of a report identifying key facts, trends, and patterns in elder financial exploitation and abuse.  The Bureau’s report is based on an analysis of 180,000 Suspicious Activity Reports (“SARs”) filed with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (“FinCEN”) by banks, credit unions, and other financial services providers between 2013 and 2017 relating to elder financial exploitation.  The Bureau estimated that the SARs documented a tiny fraction – less than two percent – of actual elder financial exploitation cases in 2017.  The report constitutes the first public analysis of SARs reporting elder financial exploitation since 2013, when FinCEN introduced electronic SAR filing with a category for elder financial exploitation.

Some of the key findings set forth in the report include:

  • SAR filings on elder financial exploitation quadrupled from 2013 to 2017;
  • Money services businesses (“MSBs”) have filed an increasing share of elder financial exploitation SARs (58 percent in 2017), and MSB-filed SARs tend to involve scams perpetrated by strangers, rather than depository institution-filed SARs that mostly involve persons known to the older adult;
  • Financial institutions reported a total of $1.7 billion in suspicious activities in 2017, including actual losses and attempts to steal older adults’ funds;
  • Nearly 80 percent of elder financial exploitation SARs involved a monetary loss to older adults and/or the financial institutions filing the SARs;
  • The average loss to an older adult reported in elder financial exploitation SARs was $34,200; in seven percent of these cases, the loss exceeded $100,000;
  • One-third of the individuals who suffered a loss were ages 80 and older;
  • Adults ages 70 to 79 had the highest average monetary loss ($45,300), and losses were greater when the older adult knew the suspect;
  • More than half of elder financial exploitation SARs involved a money transfer;
  • On average, the suspicious activity reported in the elder financial exploitation SARs took place over a period of four months; and
  • Fewer than one-third of financial institutions filing elder financial exploitation SARs indicated that they had also reported the activity to adult protective services, law enforcement, or other authorities.

The Bureau’s report identifies implications for key stakeholders.  First, the Bureau found that elder financial exploitation is “widespread and damaging” and that the report’s findings underscore “the need for strong and diverse interventions by financial institutions, law enforcement, and social services, as well as the involvement of policymakers.”  Second, the Bureau characterized the lack of reporting by SAR filers to adult protective services or law enforcement as “a missed opportunity.”  Third, the Bureau found that different patterns of SAR filings by MSBs and depository institutions could inform tailored prevention and intervention strategies.  Fourth, the Bureau concluded that elder financial exploitation SARs were a “useful and untapped resource” for studying this problem and for law enforcement use in investigating and prosecuting cases.