FINANCIAL ABUSE OF THE ELDERLY
It's a problem that may soon be the preferred crime of the ages. As the number of seniors continue to soar (can you say baby boomers?) so does the number of people seeking to separate them from their money. I'm not just talking about the crooks, con artists and bad eggs either. Unfortunately, a study by the National Center of Elder Abuse revealed that 50% of all elder abuse cases were committed by a child or close relative. If you add greedy neighbors, friends and caregivers to the mix that percentage rises substantially.
The number one reason for these acts is the "I am going to get it anyway" attitude. I have personally experienced this attitude in my own practice. Many family members behave as if they are entitled to their inheritance now and that mom and dad shouldn't be spending their own money.
Examples of elder financial abuse include the following: A parent gives a child power of attorney who then uses it to withdraw bank funds; a caregiver obtains use of an elder's ATM card & PIN; phone sales of risky investments; a con-artist solicits money for a phony charity or because the elder is a "prize winner".
With the economy weakening, many people are willing to take advantage of elderly family members. Why not? The risks are low and the rewards are high! This type of crime is hard to prove, is not violent and victims are reluctant to report them to authorities. A recent study estimated that only 1 in 25 incidents of elder financial abuse are reported. Another study estimated that only 1 in 100 cases were reported. Why commit violent crime, when all these assets are there for the taking. Those over the age of 50 control 70% of the nation's wealth. Unfortunately, this makes them desirable targets for financial abuse.
The results of these crimes are devastating. Victims have a higher risk of death than non-victims. Their health and the desire to live are greatly diminished. Many times, victims are forced from their homes and end up dying in a nursing home facility.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
Education and awareness is key. Elders must recognize signs of abuse and report the wrong doers. Protect yourself by: use direct deposit for social security & pension checks; never give your ATM or PIN to anyone; carefully review bank statements; give only to known charities; refuse to talk to telemarketers; be very careful of who you give power of attorney to, especially if gifting provisions are included. To Report Elder Abuse: Call Elder Services of Berkshire County at (413) 499-0524 or the ELDER ABUSE HOTLINE at (800) 922-2275, available 24 hours per day.
Around the country, teams of various professions, including social workers, attorneys, realtors, bankers, law enforcement officials, and public protective agencies are coming together to address this problem in ways similar to how the problems of child abuse and drunk driving are targeted. One team spear headed by CA attorney, David Knitter called FAST (Financial Abuse Specialist Team) recouped 18 million dollars in Solano County, CA in its first 2 years. More information and resources can be found at the website for the National Center of Elder Abuse.