Howard Tischler’s mother didn’t want to burden her children, so the former accountant arranged her finances for retirement and maintained an independent lifestyle.
As she aged, Tischler noticed inconsistencies in her finances — credit card charges that made no sense, for example, and bills for an auto parts service even though she had no car or driver’s license. It didn't help that she was legally blind.
“I didn’t see any signs of dementia, it wasn’t something that was visible,” Tischler says. “Other people were calling and selling her things. She brought in a friend to help pay her bills, and the friend was writing herself checks out of my mother’s bank account.”
Her problems were mounting, but the nature of the exploitation made it difficult for financial institutions to detect. His mother stopped paying for a long-term care policy she had purchased. Then, when her expenses snowballed, she started to take early withdrawals out of an annuity to cover.
“If we stepped back and looked at it, there were a lot of indicators of a problem, but they weren’t all within one institution or account,” Tischler says. “It would be difficult for any one person to see what was happening and flag it.”
Tischler, a financial technology entrepreneur, didn’t let the issue go — he founded EverSafe, a Columbia, Md. firm that offers digital account monitoring to help safeguard senior citizens vulnerable to fraud and exploitation.
EverSafe addresses a growing issue: the U.S. Census Bureau expects the population of people ages 65 and up to double by 2050, and cognitive decline often begins for people in their late 50’s.
The 2010 Investor Protection Trust Elder Fraud study found that one in five Americans over the age of 65 has been the victim of a financial fraud. Additional research from that year by the National Institute on Aging found that victims of elder abuse had a one-year mortality rate, or more than twice that of individuals of similar age and health who had not been mistreated. Furthermore, a 2011 study by MetLife found that elder financial exploitation costs seniors more than $2.9 billion annually.
“The truth is that this just kills people,” says Elizabeth Loewy, EverSafe general counsel and vice president of industry relations. “It’s a heartbreaking problem, but I believe that this problem will be resolved in a number of years through the use of technology.”
Tischler and Loewy aren’t the only ones combatting elder abuse. As states consider laws to help protect vulnerable citizens, another initiative is combatting elder financial abuse through education.