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How to Stop Financial Elder Abuse Fast

Financial elder abuse is becoming the preferred vehicle to wealth in the 21st century. We have a growing population of seniors, and unfortunately, of greedy relatives, neighbors, friends and good ol’ fashioned cons and crooks. The old adage of “not waiting until the body has gone cold to grab the money” looks like a better alternative when contrasted to what has developed in recent years. Now many are not waiting until the body is even dead to grab the money. Why?

The justification from the relative is “I am going to get it anyway.” A study by the National Center of Elder Abuse survey of state Adult Protective Services corroborated that over 50% of all substantiated cases of elder abuse[1] were perpetrated by a child or close relative. The National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse lists this entitlement attitude as the reason stating they “stand to inherit and feel justified in taking what they believe is ‘almost’ or ‘rightfully’ theirs.” Unfortunately, a professional or two I have dealt with has taken the same untenable position: that a family member is entitled to get their inheritance before the death of the elder, even if it is not the elder’s choice. A checkbook or power of attorney in hand is worth more than a revocable estate plan.

The justification for the seasoned crook is “low risk-high reward.” Why risk time for violent crime when many authorities are inclined to shy away from the time consuming less dramatic financial crimes? As a crook, hundreds of thousands of dollars in assets are readily available for the taking and all they need do is become a friend and helper or run a simple con. Financial abuse of our older population has become an epidemic and is positioned to grow[2]. Those over the age of 50 control over 70% of the nation’s wealth (National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse). At least $4.8 Billion in assets are at risk every year in my home state of California[3]. These are only cases of reported abuse on a single date in 2006.

Financial abuse is real and devastating to the elder. Victims of financial abuse have a higher risk of death than non victims[4]. It is a crime being perpetrated against the “greatest generation.” It greatly impacts the elder’s health, and often the desire to live. A common result of the crime is to strip elders of their ability to die in their home and avoid the care facility[5]. I have personally witnessed the victims of this “financial” crime, and can testify to its lethal nature. One victim had previously been a robust man, was stripped of his assets and literally turned into a 90 pound weakling headed for death. He lost nearly 50 pounds in less than a year, a time period during which he was facing eviction from his home[6]. Financial elder abuse must be prevented as it affects the health and well-being of our elders, but how do we prevent elder abuse ASAP?

To have an impact and prevent financial elder abuse, form a multidisciplinary team (MDT). We did, and in the first two years prevented or recouped nearly $18 million in losses in our small California County[7]. Our team is called Solano FAST (Financial Abuse Specialist Team). It is a great way to collaborate with other professionals and merge expertise from the public and private sectors to address this growing problem. There are several different models used throughout the country. We started with gathering information including the how to’s and needed administrative forms[8]. We chose the consultative model[9] which effectively roundtables issues with the input of 30-40 professionals and government personnel. The public sector participants include[10] social workers, law enforcement, adult protective services, public guardians, consumer affairs and county counsel personnel. Private sector includes attorneys, realtors, title officers, bankers, investment advisors, lenders and others.

Training of the team is the top priority. Bring in experts to discuss how to prevent the real life scams that are occurring everyday. For example, bring in an expert to educate the team in trust mill annuity sale scams or investment scams. Learn how to identify the red flags and elders who are at risk. Learn how public agencies work and what they can, and more importantly[11], what they cannot do. Learn how to educate the elder population in your community through workshops and public outreach. Learn from other disciplines to fill in your own gaps in knowledge. Learn how to prevent financial elder abuse.

After initial training sessions, the consultants are presented with real cases[12]. All disciplines offer their expertise and possible solutions and action plans to address a problem. This is when the energy will be felt by the team members as it is undeniably heating up the room. There are tangible successes from saving an elders life savings to catching the bad guy and seeing them convicted so they cannot abuse more victims. Successfully working with others to prevent the 80 or 90 year old from losing his or her life savings is an obvious reason to take up the cause.

The acknowledgement of the occurrences of elder abuse is in its infant stages, but like domestic violence and child abuse before, will become a high priority for our society. This is proven by the news stories we now read about abused elders, hearing people talking about abuse, and the fact it is becoming a top priority to prevent abuse. It was not long ago that elder abuse was unknown and invisible. This is no longer the case and you can help by forming an MDT to stop elder abuse FAST. For those who believe it cannot be done due to the obstacles[13], that is what I was told, and FAST is now a reality. The people you can protect through an MDT are World War II veterans, parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, the elderly neighbor and any elder who deserve our help. Please stop elder abuse FAST; they need you.

[1] Includes all forms of elder abuse, not just financial abuse

[2] It has been estimated that only 1 in 14 incidences is reported (See, Pillemer, K. and Finkelhor, D. (1988) the Prevalence of Elder Abuse. A random Sample Survey. Gerontologist, 28 (1), 51-57). More recently, some estimate that as to elder financial abuse it is likely that only” 1 in 25″ incidences is reported (see Wasik, John F. The Fleecing of America’s Elderly. Consumers Digest. April, 2000) and up to 1 in 100 (see The County Welfare Directors Association of California (CWDA) Anna and Joe: The importance of Adult Protective Services in the Fight Against Elder Financial Abuse p 2.
[3] Id.

[4] Elder Mistreatment: Risk, Vulnerability & Early Mortality, Margaret Baker-Journal of American Psychiatric Nurses Assoc 2007 Vol 12 I 6:313 et seq

[5] It is a repeated desire of many, but not all elders, to live out their days in their own home. One ploy used by perpetrators is to gain trust by promises of keeping the elder at home and out of the care facility and harshly criticize heirs who disagree.

[6] His wife and he transferred the home to his step child believing they needed to do so for medi-cal qualification for his wife’s cancer treatments. This was the start of my mission to prevent others from becoming victims and starting an MDT in my community.

[7] Special thanks are due to the Archstone Foundation for their generous support of Solano FAST.

[8] My thanks to those teams willing to freely share information such as Madison WI, Orange, CA and other teams.

[9] We are now moving to a rapid response model which can freeze bank account and prevent real property transfers within one day, if not hours.
[10] Information can be obtained as to the type of consultants that should and can be used.

[11] Create realistic expectations so there is no shame or blame of team members or you will lose them

[12] There must be strict confidentiality and no use of names of victims, suspects, or other information that could identify a case. Our team uses County counsel to strip the case examples of this identifying information so that each case effectively reads like a hypothetical.

[13] I was bluntly told that it would not work as others tried before me and failed. You will hear that “so and so” would not be on board. We built a FAST, and they all enthusiastically have come to the table.