Elder abuse is on the rise, and it is a disturbing problem state attorneys general are looking to combat. Attorney General Derek Schmidt is taking charge of protecting Kansas seniors, and his office has become a model when fighting these crimes. In an effort to provide better insight to lawmakers, the Attorney General testified before the United States Senate Special Committee on Aging. Schmidt shared what he is doing to combat scams and protect this vulnerable population.
Watch Attorney General Schmidt’s testimony below:
This is a subject matter for me personally that, through no strength of my own, became an interest of mine early in my law enforcement career. I was an Assistant attorney General twenty years ago now. I was assigned to the Consumer Protection Division, something I candidly never thought about doing when I first took the job. And because of that, I was exposed to a variety of scams and rip-offs particularly of elder Kansans. It’s the sort of thing that makes your blood boil once you see it and inspires you to try to do more. So it’s an area we’ve tried to focus on through my career at the Kansas AG’s office and in our National Association this past year.
I usually tell folks there are, when you cut through the numbers and the analysis that the smart folks give, for me there are three factors that have converged that make this a timely topic that will remain timely throughout all of our public service. Number one, it’s simply the number of Americans over the age of 65. Whatever the current, accurate numbers are, I’ve looked at data sets that show between 1900 and 2010, so I have a century and a decade. The number of Americans in that age group grew from around 5 million to around 40 million. I think we’re around 50 million today if I’m not mistaken. That’s also a larger percentage of the population, not merely a larger number. We went from about 3% to about 12%, and we have somewhere in the range of 10,000 Americans a day turning age 65, and that’s going to remain true for at least the next decade. So the target population, for lack of a better term, is growing and is going to continue to grow.
Factor #2, it is perhaps a softer factor, but I think it’s real. It certainly is in my experience. Because of the generation we’re talking about, there are certain generational characteristics that tend to create vulnerabilities … Some is loneliness. That was mentioned by you Chairman in your opening and that is certainly true. We see those cases time and time again. I think somebody falls victim because they know something’s a miss, but at least somebody’s talking to them on the phone, somebody’s engaging them in conversation. They’ll take the financial risk in order to have somebody actually talk with them.
The third factor is one we don’t talk about as much, which is simply the money. The median household wealth of an American family with at least one member age 65 and older today is somewhere in the range of $240,000. That is the most wealthy, on average, demographic age-wise in the United States and at risk of overstating the case, because we are in the richest country in the history of the world, it is probably the most wealth-concentrated in any age-base demographic in the history of the world.
So you have more targets, perceived and in reality, as more vulnerable with more money than ever before. It shouldn’t be surprising that the problem is exploding, and it is going to continue to.