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2023 Report to the Nation

Fiscal Years 2021 - 2022

Elder Abuse and Financial Exploitation

Older adults are especially vulnerable to violent crime, neglect, and exploitation, including financial fraud. A review of the 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey respondents (2,185) found that approximately 1 in 10 individuals ages 70 and older have experienced some form of abuse in the past year [1]. Another study’s estimates range as high as 5 million elders who are abused each year [2]. The effects of these crimes can be devastating, and older adults may be targeted at rates that outpace the services available to help the growing number of victims. Those often most at risk of victimization experience barriers to accessing services including social isolation, cognitive impairment, physical limitations, and depression.

Not surprisingly, elder abuse results in a wide range of negative health impacts, including the increased likelihood of injury and chronic health conditions. We know from research in this area that older victims of violence have additional health care problems and higher premature mortality rates than non-victims, and that older victims of even modest forms of abuse have dramatically (300 percent) higher morbidity and mortality rates than non-abused older adults [3]. Further, elder abuse may be difficult to detect, as the perpetrator may be a caretaker, family member, or other individual on whom the victim must rely for basic needs. Therefore, victims may be reluctant to report a crime if it requires reporting a family member or may result in a loss of personal independence.

OVC supports advocates, service providers, researchers, and policymakers throughout the Nation in their efforts to address the rights and needs of older victims of abuse and neglect. It provides funding to State Administering Agencies (SAA) for crime victim compensation and victim assistance programs. The SAAs distribute VOCA victim assistance funding to subgrantee organizations throughout the country that address the emotional, advocacy, and financial needs of victims of crime.

In FYs 2021 and 2022, the VOCA victim assistance grant program supported 5,809 organizations serving at least one individual age 60 and older. Victim service providers that received VOCA subgrants served 689,064 older victims between FY 2021 and FY 2022, representing 6 percent of new victims served over the 2-year period. During that period, an average of 28,384 victims per quarter sought services for elder abuse or neglect. Among the VOCA-funded organizations for which older victims accounted for 75 percent or more of the new victims served, the five most common types of victimizations were elder abuse (53 percent); identity theft, fraud, and financial crime (23 percent); domestic and family violence (8 percent); adult physical assault (5 percent); and stalking or harassment (2 percent).

All 54 of the VOCA victim compensation grantees served victims ages 60 and older. The crimes most commonly associated with elder abuse and neglect served by VOCA victim compensation grantees were assault, fraud and financial crimes [4], homicide, robbery, and sexual assault. A total of 23,710 individuals ages 60 and older applied for compensation benefits in FY 2021 and FY 2022 through the VOCA victim compensation grant program. During that period, VOCA-funded organizations paid 2,062 compensation claims related to elder abuse or neglect.

The Transforming America’s Response to Elder Abuse: Mobilizing Attorneys for Older Victims of Abuse & Financial Exploitation program provides increased legal services for older victims of crime—particularly in rural areas—by helping to educate attorneys and allied professionals about the needs of older victims, and  increasing coordinated multidisciplinary responses in supporting older victims of crime.

Locations of Elder Justice Program Fellows and Host Organizations

Since 2020, through a cooperative agreement with Equal Justice Works, 22 Elder Justice Fellows at 16 legal aid organizations across the country, who are newly minted civil legal attorneys, have been providing holistic legal services in person or virtually so that they can obtain justice for their clients and help restore their dignity, safety, and financial well-being (see map: Locations of Elder Justice Program Fellows and Host Organizations). As of June 30, 2022, the Fellows have conducted 709 outreach activities, provided direct legal services to 1,917 older crime victims, trained 7,220 attorneys and allied professionals, participated in 490 multidisciplinary teams or coalition activities, and contributed to organizational capacity-building activities.

Elder abuse cases are complex, often requiring multiple systems to effectively respond to them. In FY 2021, OVC awarded $3.6 million in funding to 10 grantees under the Transforming America's Response to Elder Abuse: Coordinated, Enhanced Multidisciplinary Teams (E-MDTs) for Older Victims of Abuse and Financial Exploitation program, which supports elder abuse multidisciplinary teams as E-MDTs at the rural, Tribal, local, and state levels, including existing and new teams. These awards, combined with the $5 million awarded in FY 2019, increased the total number of grantees under this program to 24. Developing an E-MDT is recognized as a potentially powerful solution that communities can initiate in response to elder abuse. The teams reduce service duplication and effectively respond to victims' myriad needs, improving the care that would have been provided had the organizations and systems acted in isolation.

In FY 2021 and 2022, MDTs served 65,258 individuals (both new and returning) with 2,032 individuals receiving services for the first time. Elder abuse or neglect was the most common victimization type, accounting for 71 percent of the victimizations identified; followed by identity theft, fraud, and financial crime (14 percent); and adult physical assault (8 percent). The most common services provided included referrals to other services, supports, and resources (62,193 occurrences); crisis intervention (6,999 occurrences); and hotline or crisis-line counseling (2,935 occurrences). The E-MDTs averaged 195 partners per quarter, with an average of 87 partners per quarter that were due to grant funding.

The E-MDTs provided 38 trainings to 455 participants, including victim service providers, legal service providers and courts, government officials, medical professionals or health care providers, and victim advocates. They also completed 76 technical assistance requests for 137 recipients.

To further support E-MDTs, OVC awarded more than $2 million in FY 2019 to establish the National Elder Abuse MDT Training and Technical Assistance Center to provide case consultations and training and technical assistance (TTA) to OVC-funded Tribal and non-Tribal E-MDTs throughout the country. This funding supported capacity-building efforts of the 13 OVC-funded E-MDTs. They received an additional $1 million in FY 2021 in hopes of expanding their reach to the 10 additional teams. Since the center was established, they have—

  • convened twice monthly Peer Leadership Group meetings for coordinators to meet to discuss successes and challenges of their work and share resources;
  • developed a first-ever toolkit containing strategies and resources to better advance racial equity in E-MDTs;
  • released a monthly e-bulletin for grantees to receive updates on developments and events in the field;
  • produced a series of four videos on best practices for running hybrid E-MDT meetings; and
  • convened a 2 ½ day virtual conference with experts from the field sharing insights on a range of topics including building robust systems of practice; restorative practices for E-MDTs; and capacity assessments.

The National Elder Fraud Hotline

In March 2020, the Attorney General announced the launch of the DOJ National Elder Fraud Hotline. The toll free hotline, managed by OVC, provides services to all adults ages 60 and older who may be victims of financial fraud. From its launch through April 2023, the hotline handled 37,047 calls and assisted with or filed 4,440 Federal Trade Commission and FBI IC3 (Internet Crime Complaint Center) complaint forms.

In FY 2020, OVC awarded $1,940,738 to the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C) to work with the International Association of Chiefs of Police to develop training for law enforcement to improve identification of and response to elder fraud victims. During the reporting period, NW3C launched Responding to Transnational Elder Fraud: A Victim-Centered Approach for Law Enforcement that provides attendees with information they need to collaboratively assist older victims of fraud perpetuated in multiple jurisdictions by phone or internet. This course offers background information on transnational fraud and tips for identifying and interviewing older victims through a trauma-informed lens. Since the launch, 4 trainings have been held, 2 of which were pilots, for a total of 90 attendees, and the project was highlighted in an article about transnational elder fraud in the March 2022 edition of Police Chief Magazine. A supplemental self-paced online course is forthcoming, which will include an immersive technological component where users explore a residence and collect evidence of fraud.

In FY 2020, OVC awarded nearly $6 million to 12 organizations under the Enhancing Services for Older Victims of Abuse and Financial Exploitation program to support communities in providing services to older victims of abuse and exploitation using trauma-informed approaches that protect the safety and confidentiality of victims. From June 2021 through June 2022, 11 of the 12 grantees reported serving 1,883 new and returning victims and 559 anonymous contacts. Of the total, 1,248 unique individuals were new clients served throughout the year.

The most common victimization types reported were elder abuse or neglect; domestic and family violence; identity theft, fraud, and financial crimes; bullying; and adult physical assault. An average of 332 individuals sought services for elder abuse or neglect. The information and referral service category encompassed the greatest number of victims served, with an average of 446 individuals per quarter, followed by the criminal and civil justice system assistance category with 286 individuals served per quarter. The most frequently provided services were other legal advice or counsel; individual counseling; and referral to other services, supports, and resources (e.g., legal, medical, and faith-based organizations; address-confidentiality programs).

Elder Justice Coalitions

Older Americans are often targets of guardianship abuse, financial exploitation, fraud, and scams. Those often most at-risk of victimization experience barriers to accessing services including social isolation, cognitive impairment, physical limitations, and depression. Additionally, older victims cannot earn back a lifetime of earnings stolen or swindled by a caregiver, guardian, family member, or fraudster. Despite the high cost to older victims, there is little dedicated funding to support Elder Justice Coalitions, through which elder justice advocates, legal aid professionals, and victim service providers collaborate to collectively identify and address gaps in services to older victims of abuse and financial exploitation.

In FY 2022, OVC awarded $3.7 million to Lifespan of Greater Rochester to establish a National Elder Justice Coalition Center. The center will support the development of new state and Tribal coalitions that will collaborate with federal agencies to coordinate elder justice work. The center will also offer ongoing training and technical assistance to new and existing coalitions and will serve as a clearinghouse for resources and information concerning elder justice issues, programs, and advocacy.

The Elder Justice Initiative

In addition to national-scope TTA grants, OVC transfers discretionary funding to federal agencies to ensure that allied professionals are skilled at addressing the needs and rights of crime victims, including older victims of abuse and exploitation. In FY 2021, OVC provided DOJ’s Elder Justice Initiative (EJI) $825,000, through DOJ’s Civil Division, to support two new positions: an elder justice services research analyst and an elder multidisciplinary team (MDT) victim specialist. Tasks associated with these positions include developing interview protocols, model responses, and other tools and resources along with nationwide training in how to address victims’ needs with a trauma-informed, victim-centered response to older victims of abuse and financial exploitation.

In FY 2017, OVC began the Field-Generated Innovations in Addressing Elder Financial Exploitation Program, through which it awarded a total of $3.4 million for eight sites to focus on elder financial exploitation through innovative collaborations between the financial industry and others to better detect and respond to victims. The culmination of their efforts was initially released in FY 2020 and placed on DOJ’s Elder Justice Initiative website. The Elder Justice Advocates Curriculum was added in 2022, and provides a standardized curriculum for professionals in multiple settings with varying levels of experience, including prosecutors, law enforcement agencies, and domestic violence programs. This training illustrates the many ways that older individuals may be harmed, including elder abuse, scams, ID theft, and other crimes.

For additional information, visit the elder fraud and abuse section of OVC’s website.