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Financial fraud and scams among older adults is a serious concern

Burnes D, Henderson C, Sheppard C, et al.  Prevalence of financial fraud and scams among older adults in the United States: A systematic review and meta-analysis  American Journal of Public Health. August 2017; 107(8): 13-21.

Review question

How prevalent are financial fraud and scams targeting older adults in the United States?


As the population ages, financial abuse and exploitation of the elderly has become a serious concern. 

The increase in financial exploitation of older adults leads to an increased risk of hospitalization, poor physical and mental health, and poor quality of life. The type of financial exploitation relates to the perpetrator of the abuse, which can be someone in a position of trust, such as a family member, or a stranger.

This review aimed to highlight the prevalence of financial fraud and scams perpetrated by strangers against older adults, in order to inform future prevention efforts, early detection and treatment. 

How the review was done

A detailed search was conducted of a number of electronic databases for studies published from 1990 to2017. Studies that focused on elder financial fraud and scams prevalence were included in the review.

A total of 1,207 studies were identified in searches, and 12 were included in the review after assessments for eligibility.

This review was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

What the researchers found

The studies included in this review reveal that one in every 18 older adults experience financial fraud every year.

The frequency of financial fraud and scams among the elderly is of serious concern as it can contribute to major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, lower subjective health ratings, and increased functional somatic complaints for the aging population.


The review revealed that one in every 18 older adults experience financial fraud/scams every year.

The small sample sizes of the studies limited the accuracy of the review.

Professionals working with older adults likely routinely encounter individuals who are fraud–scam victims. Validation of instruments to screen for financial fraud and scams appears like a priority area for future research.

Related Web Resources

  • Safeguarding adults

    Know the signs of abuse: frequent arguments with a caregiver, changes in personality, unexplained injuries, bruising, unusual weight loss or unsafe living conditions. Ask doctors, social workers or community nurses for support if you or someone you know might be abused. Contact the police if someone you know is in physical danger.
  • Screening for intimate partner violence and abuse of elderly and vulnerable adults: Consumer fact sheet

    U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF)
    Elder abuse can be financial, physical, sexual, psychological harm done to an older adult, or neglect or abandonment. There is not enough evidence to determine if screening all older adults for abuse and neglect can successfully identify elder abuse or help prevent it.
  • Rural and Tribal Elder Justice Resource Guide

    The United States Department of Justice
    Tribal and rural lands are home to many older adults. In the United States, the Department of Justice and Department of Agriculture teamed up to address issues of elder abuse in rural and tribal areas. This resource contains information about elder abuse and links to useful external resources for tribal elders and rural older adults. Read this resource to learn more.
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