THOMAS BLOMBERG FOUND MORE THAN HE BARGAINED FOR when he visited a Florida retirement community to conduct ground-breaking research on the causes of elder fraud this past summer. He came away with plenty of data. What he didn't expect was how deeply moved he'd be.
"Talking with the victims was emotionally charged," says Blomberg, dean of the College of Criminology & Criminal Justice at Florida State University. In particular, he recalls one man who confessed, with tears in his eyes, to losing $3,500 on the false promise of unlimited cruises. "It's not the money," the man said. "I just feel so stupid." That sense of embarrassment, says Blomberg, can cause people to isolate themselves from those who could help them avoid becoming a victim again.
Blomberg's research, conducted by Florida State University with support from Merrill Lynch, uncovered the most common perpetrators of fraud, as well as triggers that can make people susceptible.1 The findings have been used to identify strategies that friends, family—even financial advisors—can use to help protect those most vulnerable, says Michael Liersch, head of behavioral finance and goals-based consulting for Merrill Lynch Wealth Management.
For starters, Liersch recommends families hold regular meetings to discuss financial concerns and decision-making. It can also help to connect trusted financial professionals with those who are watching out for an elderly relative, he says. That way everyone can work together to help spot and prevent problems.
Read “What Behavioral Finance Has to Say About Financial Elder Fraud,” co-authored by Liersch, for more insights and strategies informed by Florida State University’s research.
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1 Thomas G. Blomberg, Julie Mestre Brancale, J.W. Andrew Ranson, Brae Campion and George Pesta, “Elder Financial Exploitation in The Villages, Florida.” Florida State University College of Criminology and Criminal Justice, The Center for Criminology and Public Policy Research; forthcoming.
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