As economy worsens, swindling of elders increases

Fraud is bad enough, but when you have family members or caregivers who are financially abusing their elderly relatives or patients, that’s downright despicable.

And yet, in most of the cases of elder financial abuse, the perpetrators are not strangers. Family, friends, neighbors and caregivers are the culprits in 55 percent of the cases, according to a report, “Broken

Trust: Elders, Family, and Finances, “ released by the MetLife Mature Market Institute. The report was produced in conjunction with the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and Virginia Tech University.

Law enforcement and securities officials say the recession is pushing more people to steal from well-off seniors.

“There is definitely more fraud than there has been,” said Fred Joseph, Colorado securities commissioner and president of the North American Securities Administrators Association. “Elder financial abuse is becoming the crime of the 21st century as the growing senior population is increasingly targeted.”

The annual financial loss by victims of elder financial abuse is estimated to be at least $2.6 billion, according to the report. The average victim of elder abuse is a woman over 75 who lives alone.

It’s not surprising that the more health issues seniors have, the more likely they will be victimized. As I searched media reports of abuse for just this year, I found numerous cases where family members and caregivers took advantage of seniors with dementia.

A nursing assistant from the state of Washington was charged with stealing more than $770,000 from the elderly woman she was caring for.

In a Florida case, a man called authorities to report his 80-year-old mother’s hairdresser had stolen her checks. The stylist was accused of taking $25,000 from the woman’s checking account. But get this. During the investigation, police charged the victim’s 52-year-old son — who first alerted police — with fraudulently cashing $6,900 in checks from his mentally incompetent mother.

Last month in Virginia, a home health caregiver was sentenced to six months in jail for taking $15,000 from an 85-year-old woman suffering from dementia. The victim was bedridden.

The financial abuse of seniors has become so prevalent that the North American Securities Administrators Association and the National Adult Protective Services Association recently united to develop tips and strategies to protect them.

“A silent crime is taking its toll on America — silent because so many of these cases go unreported,” said Kathleen Quinn, executive director of the protective services association. “This announcement is the first step in a partnership we hope will grow to close the gap on elder abuse.”

Elder financial abuse can happen in a number of ways, according to the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse:

  • Forging an older person’s signature.

    Getting a senior to sign a deed, will, or power of attorney through deception, coercion, or undue influence.

    Using the elder person’s property or possessions without permission.

    Promising lifelong care in exchange for money or property and not following through on the promise.

    Making charges against victims’ credit cards without authorization.

    Confidence crimes (“cons”) in which victims are scammed by gaining their trust.

    Following are some red-flag warnings NASAA will be providing to adult protective services workers to help them spot and stop potential elder financial abuse:

  • Is the senior receiving information about or being asked to invest in unregistered securities or start-up companies? (You’ll have to do some research to find this out.) Securities fraud can be detected by checking with your state securities regulator. Contact information is available at www.nasaa.org.

    Is the investment high risk or possibly speculative, such as oil and gas exploration, new or untested technologies, rare metals, or involve currency trading?

    Has the senior been asked to sign blank paperwork or to give discretionary authority over her accounts to an adviser?

    Is the senior complaining that his investment adviser won’t give him his account statements or documentation?

    Has the senior made out a check directly to the adviser or broker for the purchase of an investment?

    There’s information on NASAA’s Web site that will assist you in helping seniors avoid these problems. Go to www.nasaa.org and search for “Senior Investor Resource Center.” To report elder abuse you can contact an Adult Protective Services office at www.apsnetwork.org or through the National Center on Elder Abuse at www.ncea.aoa.gov or 800-677-1116

    “This type of crime just sets me off,” Joseph said. “You get victims who are in their 70s and 80s being taken for their life savings. What do they do? They can’t earn it back.”

    If you suspect a senior is being financially exploited, report it — even if the suspected scoundrel is a family member.

    Washington Post Writers Group

    Talk to us

  • More in Herald Business Journal

    Logo for news use featuring Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
    Business Briefs: State minimum wage rises in January

    Also, Boeing workers’ donations support local nonprofits and fundraiser for businesses impacted by Bolt Creek wildfire.

    Jollee Nichols, right, and daughter Ruby, 2, work on an art project together at the Imagine Children’s Museum on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
    With new addition, Imagine Children’s Museum doubles in size

    More than just space, the Everett museum’s new $25 million wing is an investment in mental health.

    Artistic rendering of 526 Speedway exterior. (Mosaic Avenue Realty Ltd.)
    Mosaic Homes looks to add industrial condo space in Mukilteo

    Mosaic Homes steps into commercial real estate development with 526 Speedway, an industrial condo project.

    Andy Illyn with a selection of his greeting cards, Cardstalked, that are sold at What’s Bloomin’ Floral on Friday, Oct. 28, 2022 in Arlington, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
    Adventure-seeking cop finds new thrill in greeting cards

    Mukilteo assistant police chief Andy Illyn unwinds by turning puns and dad jokes into greeting cards.

    Dan Murphy, left, Mary Fosse and Rex Habner. (BadgleyPhotography.com / Snohomish & Island County Labor Council)
    Everett City Council member honored by local labor council

    Mary Fosse, candidate for District 38, receives the first annual Mike Sells Labor Champion award.

    Screen printed dish towels available at Madrona Supply Company on Saturday, Oct. 22, 2022 in Clinton, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
    Do some good along with your Christmas shopping

    Head across the Sound to Whidbey Island for gift-buying with a do-gooder spirit

    Shoppers walk in and out of Macy’s at Alderwood Mall were Black Friday deals are being advertised on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022 in Lynnwood, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
    Go ahead, hit snooze: Most Black Friday deals are online

    Braving the stores on Black Friday is still a thing, but more retailers are closed on Thanksgiving.

    FILE - In this photo provided by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, a crane and boats are anchored next to a collapsed "net pen" used by Cooke Aquaculture Pacific to farm Atlantic Salmon near Cypress Island in Washington state on Aug. 28, 2017, after a failure of the nets allowed tens of thousands of the nonnative fish to escape. A Washington state jury on Wednesday, June 22, 2022, awarded the Lummi Indian tribe $595,000 over the 2017 collapse of the net pen where Atlantic salmon were being raised, an event that elicited fears of damage to wild salmon runs and prompted the Legislature to ban the farming of the nonnative fish. (David Bergvall/Washington State Department of Natural Resources via AP, File)
    State won’t renew leases for Puget Sound fish farms

    Cooke Aquaculture has until Dec. 14 to wrap up steelhead farming and begin deconstructing their equipment.

    Kevin Flynn, right, a meat-cutter with the Marysville Albertsons, hands a leaflet to a shopper during an informational campaign on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022. Flynn was one of about a dozen grocery store workers handing out leaflets to shoppers about the proposed merger between Albertsons and Kroger. (Mike Henneke / The Herald)
    Proposed merger of Albertsons and Kroger worries employees

    Workers at an Albertsons in Marysville urge shoppers to sign a petition blocking the $25 billion deal.

    Kim Taylor, left, and Jeff Stoner co-own Greenbank Cidery, a newly opened taproom on Whidbey Island with eight varieties of cider on tap. (Rachel Rosen / Whidbey News-Times)
    Cider tasting room opens on Whidbey Island

    The owners of Greenbank Cidery have opened a tasting room in Coupeville. Eight varieties of cider are on tap.

    Erika Heer, EVP, Chief Human Resources Officer at Coastal Community Bank
    Quiet Quitting – the good, bad and what to do about it

    Mid-summer, the term ‘quiet quitting’ became a part of the vocabulary of… Continue reading

    Customers walk in and out of Fred Meyer along Evergreen Way on Monday, Oct. 31, 2022 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
    Store managers in Everett plead for help with crime, public safety

    Two Fred Meyer stores report theft, drug use and threats, despite increased security and presence from Everett police.