Elder Financial Fraud Report: 180,000 Suspicious Activities (CFPB)

CFPB Analysis of SARs Finds Elder Financial Abuse Widespread, Costly

The number of Suspicious Activity Reports (SAR) filed on suspected elder financial abuse quadrupled from 2013 to 2017, rising to 63,500 that year, according to new figures published by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. In 2017, financial institutions reported $1.7 billion worth of actual elder fraud losses and attempts to steal seniors’ money.

Of SARs during the study period, nearly 80 percent involved a loss to a senior victim or to the institution filing the SAR. When a SAR involved a loss to a senior, the average amount was $34,200; when a filer lost money, the amount averaged $16,700. Losses were greater when victims knew the suspect; $50,000 on average versus $17,000 for stranger frauds. Losses involving a victim’s checking and savings accounts saw higher median losses than those involving money transfers or credit cards. 

SARs filed by depository institutions rose by 80 percent during this period. While money services businesses tended to file SARs on scams involving money transfers, the frauds uncovered by banks were more diverse. They included scams, caregiver theft, account takeover attempts and identity theft.

 The CFPB found that a little over half of depository institutions reported the suspicious activity to law enforcement or adult protective services separately from filing a SAR, whereas only one percent of the SARs filed by MSBs were also reported to law enforcement. 

Key Dates for Participation in Community/Local Events

  • May – Older Americans Month
  • May 15 – National Senior Fraud Awareness Day
  • June 15 – Elder Abuse Awareness Day
  • August 21 – National Senior Citizens Day
  • September 9 – National Grandparent’s Day
  • October – National Cyber Crime Awareness Month
  • November – National Family Caregiver Month
  • December – Identity Theft and Protection Awareness Month

CFPB - Executive Summary 

Since 2013, financial institutions have reported to the federal government over 180,000 suspicious activities targeting older adults, involving a total of more than $6 billion. These reports indicate that financial exploitation of older adults by scammers, family members, caregivers, and others is widespread in the United States. The reports also provide unique data on these suspicious activities, which can enhance ongoing efforts to prevent elder financial exploitation and to punish wrongdoers.  

This study analyzes a rich, non-public data set to shed light on the volume and characteristics of elder financial exploitation (EFE). The study explores the Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) filed with the federal government by financial institutions such as banks and money services businesses. This is the first public analysis of EFE SAR filings since the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), which receives and maintains the database of SARs, introduced electronic SAR filing with a designated category for “elder financial exploitation” in 2013. 

This report presents findings based on selected data fields from all EFE SARs filed between 2013 and 2017. The report also presents findings based on a representative sample of SAR transcripts, which include a narrative portion supplied by the financial institution. The findings provide an opportunity to better understand the complex problem of elder financial exploitation and to identify ways to improve prevention and response. 

Key Findings

•  SAR filings on elder financial exploitation quadrupled from 2013 to 2017. In 2017, elder financial exploitation (EFE) SARs totaled 63,500. Based on recent prevalence studies, these 2017 SARs likely represent a tiny fraction of actual incidents of elder financial exploitation.

•  Money services businesses have filed an increasing share of EFE SARs. In 2016, money services business (MSB) filings surpassed depository institution (DI) filings. In 2017, MSB SARs comprised 58 percent of EFE SARs, compared to 15 percent in 2013.

•  Financial institutions reported a total of $1.7 billion in suspicious activities in 2017, including actual losses and attempts to steal the older adults’ funds.
•  Nearly 80 percent of EFE SARs involved a monetary loss to older adults and/or filers (i.e. financial institutions).

•  In EFE SARs involving a loss to an older adult, the average amount lost was$34,200. In 7 percent of these EFE SARs, the loss exceeded $100,000.

•  When a filer lost money, the average loss per filer was $16,700.

•  One third of the individuals who lost money were ages 80 and older.

•  Adults ages 70 to 79 had the highest average monetary loss ($45,300).

•  Losses were greater when the older adult knew the suspect. The average loss per person was about $50,000 when the older adult knew the suspect and $17,000 when the suspect was a stranger.

•  Types of suspicious activity varied significantly by filer. When the filer was an MSB, 69 percent of EFE SARs described scams by strangers.  DI filings, in contrast, involved an array of financial crimes, with 27 percent involving stranger scams.

•  More than half of EFE SARs involved a money transfer. The second-most common financial product used to move funds was a checking or savings account (44 percent).

•  Checking or savings accounts had the highest monetary losses. The average monetary loss to the older adult was $48,300 for EFE SARs involving a checking or savings account while the average loss was $32,800 for EFE SARs involving a money transfer.

•  The suspicious activity reported in an EFE SAR took place, on average, over a four-month period.

•  Fewer than one-third of EFE SARs indicated that the filer reported the suspicious activity to a local, state, or federal authority. Only one percent of MSB SARs stated that the MSB reported the suspicious activity in the SAR to a government entity such as adult protective services or law enforcement.