Bob Roth | Special to the JT
I will never forget the feeling of leaving our baby with a sitter for the first time. It was truly terrifying. Just reflecting back to those times makes my heart pound. As boomers, we can do a little celebration dance. Class trips, proms, frat parties; they are all in the rear-view mirror. But not so fast.
If you are fortunate enough to still have one or both of your parents and are overseeing their care, don’t let your guard down. I share a deep concern for the physical, emotional and financial well-being of our aging adult population. Elder abuse is the elephant in the room that is very difficult to discuss.
Elder abuse can include physical, emotional and sexual abuse and, in many cases, financial exploitation that I will address in greater depth. Up to 5 million older Americans are abused every year, and the annual loss by victims of financial exploitation is estimated to be at least $36.5 billion. Elder abuse can happen to any older adult, and often affects those who depend on others for help with activities of daily living. The vast majority of elder financial-abuse cases are most likely to be somebody the older adult knows: 54% family members, 31% care workers and 13% partners.
Seniors can fall victim to a trusted friend or companion who exerts undue influence on their victims by putting pressure them. For example, a perpetrator may go ahead with nefarious financial goals to overtake an estate plan, preying on the naïveté of an aging adult. This tends to happen when an aging senior reveals a susceptibility such as dementia, physical limitations, profound grief over the loss of a spouse or partner or the grief over the loss of independence.
Most often, the perpetrator isolates the vulnerable senior and drives a wedge between them and family members. This increases the power differential, leaving the victim even more vulnerable to the will of the abuser. It’s hard to imagine your father or your larger-than-life grandfather could fall victim to a person or a scam. Often, this was the very person who taught you the importance of legacy planning.
Even those stoic older adults who were leaders in their industry or community can become anxious, fearing abandonment. In these cases, it’s not hard to see how aging adults could fall for a sob story and open the coffers to regain their status of being the provider or the nurturer and feeling needed.
It’s also important to keep in mind that victims of elder abuse may be reluctant to report it for fear of major consequences, like losing their independence if their only caregiver is found guilty of abuse and they’re forced into a facility.
The above highlights that having a plan is of paramount importance as a first line of defense against elder financial exploitation — but certainly not the only defense.
Warning signs of financial exploitation:
• Sudden reluctance to discuss financial matters
• Sudden, atypical or unexplained withdrawals, wire transfers or other changes in their financial situations
• Utility or other bills not being paid
• New best friends and “sweethearts”
• Onset or worsening of illnesses or disability
• Behavioral changes, such as fear, submissiveness, social isolation, disheveled appearance, forgetfulness, impulsiveness, secrecy or paranoia (These may also be signs of health issues or dementia.)
• Sudden desire to alter a will, especially when they might not fully understand the implications
• Sudden increase or new pattern in spending by family or friends
• Transfer of titles of homes or other assets to other people for no apparent reason
• Large, frequent “gifts” to caregivers
• Missing personal property
• Large, unexplained and unexpected loans taken out by elders, such as student loans
Despite elder abuse being prevalent, only one in 24 cases of abuse are reported to authorities.
If you or a loved one suspects that you or someone you know is currently or was a victim of elder abuse, follow the steps below on how to report it.
How to report elder financial abuse
According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, you can report suspicion of elderly financial abuse, even if it’s not confirmed. If you suspect someone you know — or yourself — is a victim of elder financial exploitation, take these steps to report it:
• If the suspected victim is in immediate danger, call 911 or the local police for help.
• If the suspected victim is not in immediate danger, call the Adult Protective Services (APS) number: 1-833-401-0832. You will be prompted to enter your ZIP code so you can be transferred to the APS program in your county to file a report.
• If the suspected victim is in a long-term care facility, such as a nursing home or assisted-living center, contact a Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program in your state. Ombudsmen advocate for long-term care residents and are trained to help (go online to: maryland.gov).
• Financial exploitation often involve legal issues. To find a lawyer that works with elder law, refer to this online consumer resources directory from the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys: naela.org.
• If you believe that you’ve become a victim of fraud, contact the National Elder Fraud Hotline at 1-822-372-8311. This hotline, launched by the U.S. Department of Justice, will provide you with a case manager to help guide you through recovery, including filling out an FBI report, which can be complicated for many individuals.
I have personally served on this task force for the past 13 years, and I am continually shocked and dismayed at the number of cases that are brought to the Arizona Attorney Generals office. Unfortunately, the cases keep coming and exploitation is happening more today than it was 13 years ago.
It happened to Mickey Rooney …
Elder abuse, and more specifically, fiscal exploitation, can happen to anyone.
You may recall that back in 2011, well-known actor Mickey Rooney came forward to tell the world that he was victimized by his stepchildren. Many people didn’t believe him, but those in the know did. The example illustrates that no one is immune to this type of crime.
So be prepared and even cautious. If someone out of nowhere comes into a friend or a loved one’s life, you should question their motives. If it seems or sounds too good to be true, then you should be suspicious and be certain to prevent this type of fraud happening to ones you love.
Bob Roth is the managing partner of Cypress HomeCare Solutions in Scottsdale, Ariz.