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Elder Financial Exploitation

Definition of Financial Exploitation

Financial Exploitation is the illegal or improper use of an Incapacitated or Dependent Adult or that Adult's resources for another's profit or advantage. This may happen without the victim's consent or when the victim is tricked, intimidated, or forced into giving consent. The amount may be small or large; it is evaluated in the context of the victim's financial situation. An adult who lacks capacity does not have the ability to give valid consent.

Definition of Incapacitated Adult

An Incapacitated Adult is any adult who is impaired by reason of mental illness, mental deficiency, physical illness, or disability to the extent that the individual lacks sufficient understanding or capacity to make or communicate responsible decisions concerning that individual's person, or to the extent that the adult cannot effectively manage or apply that individual's estate to necessary ends.

Definition of Dependent Adult

A Dependent Adult is an adult who has a physical or mental condition that substantially impairs the adult's ability to adequately provide for that adult's daily needs. It includes but is not limited to residents of nursing and assisted living facilities.

Financial Exploitation can be devastating for the victim. Adults can be victimized by relatives, friends, or strangers (con artists). Employees of financial institutions are crucial in identifying financial exploitation. The reasons victims are reluctant to report exploitation include shame and embarrassment, self-blame, fear of retaliation, denial, loyalty to the caregiver, and dependence on the caregiver.

Types of Exploitation

Exploitation by a person known to the victim

The following are examples of exploitation perpetrated by a family member, acquaintance, person acting with Power of Attorney or Court-Appointed Fiduciary which include:

  • Misappropriating income or assets: The Perpetrator obtains access to an elder's Social Security checks, pension payments, checking or savings account, credit card or ATM card, or withholds portions of checks cashed for an elder.
  • Charging excessive rent or fees for services: The Perpetrator charges an elder excessive rent or unreasonable fees for basic care services such as transportation, food, domestic services (such as housecleaning or maintenance) or medicine.
  • Obtaining money or property by undue influence, misrepresentation, or fraud: The Perpetrator improperly or fraudulently uses the Power of Attorney or fiduciary authority to alter an elder’s will, borrow money using an elder’s name, or dispose of an elder’s assets or income.

Exploitation by a stranger

The following are examples of Exploitation perpetrated by a con artist, unscrupulous salesman/contractor, or a person representing a bogus charity:

  • Bank Examiner Scam: The Perpetrator represents him/herself as a Bank Examiner and convinces an Elder to make a large withdrawal to help catch a dishonest Bank Employee.
  • Grandparents/Fake Accident Ploy: The Perpetrator convinces an Elder that the Elder’s child/grandchild has been seriously injured, or is in jail, and needs money for medical treatment or bail.
  • Telemarketing and mail fraud: The Perpetrator persuades an Elder to buy a valueless or non-existent product, donate to a bogus charity, or invest in a fictitious enterprise.
  • You’ve just won a prize!: The Perpetrator tells an Elder that he/she has won a non-existent prize, and obtains the Elder’s credit card or checking account number to pay for shipping and handling charges, or to verify the Elder’s identity.
  • Unsolicited work: The Perpetrator arrives unexpectedly at an Elder’s residence and offers to perform work for a reasonable fee. After starting the work, the Perpetrator insists that the Elder pay more than originally agreed before the work will be completed; perhaps even threatening the Elder with legal action if the elder does not agree to pay.

The following are examples of Red Flags that there could be something wrong:

  • Bank activity is erratic, unusual, or uncharacteristic of the Elder.
  • The activity is inconsistent with the Elder’s ability. For example, an ATM card has been used by a homebound Elder or an Elder in out-of-home care facility.
  • Recent, new acquaintances, particularly those who take up residence with an Elder, and/or who accompany the Elder to conduct Bank business.
  • Changes in the Elder’s property titles, will or other documents, particularly if the person is confused, and/or the documents favor new acquaintances.
  • A Power of Attorney executed by a confused Elder Person.
  • Lack of amenities when the Elder can afford them.
  • Missing property.
  • Suspicious activity on credit cards, or line of credit accounts.
  • Forged or suspicious signatures on documents.
  • Failure to receive services that have already been paid for.
  • The Elder is being evicted or having his/her utilities disconnected.
  • The Elder is uncared for, or the residence is unkempt when arrangements have been made for providing care and services.
  • Untreated medical or mental health problems, or frequent physical injuries including bruising, burns, and cuts.
  • The Elder’s documents such as pensions, stocks, or government payments are missing.
  • The Elder’s mail has been redirected to a different address.

Financial Exploitation may also be occurring if the Elder is:

  • Unaware of or does not understand recent completed transactions.
  • Being isolated by others.
  • Accompanied by a Stranger who encourages him/her to make large cash withdrawals.
  • Family Member who seems to coerce the Elder into conducting transactions.
  • Not allowed to speak for him/herself or make decisions.
  • Nervous or afraid of the Person accompanying him/her.
  • Giving implausible explanations about what he/she is doing with his/her money.
  • Concerned or confused about missing funds in his/her accounts.
  • Fear of eviction or institutionalization if money is not given to the Caregiver.

The following are other warning signs that something may be wrong:

  • The Elder frequently forgets items such as personal effects (purse, wallet, coat, or umbrella) and items necessary to do business (checkbook, deposit slips, and so forth.)
  • They frequently ask the same questions over a short period of time.
  • There are noticeable changes in appearance and grooming.
  • They have disorientation. For example they may come to the Bank when it is closed, or have difficulty finding the Bank or, once inside the Bank they may have difficulty remembering why they are there.
  • Paranoia- accusing Employees of mismanaging money. (These charges require review by a Professional Agency to determine whether they have merit or are distortions of reality.)
  • Hoarding behavior, such as carrying all their papers and/or valuable items in large bags all the time.
  • Brings Strangers with them to the bank.
  • Unusual withdrawals, changes in mood, changes in stance, or mobility.
  • Changes in eye contact and vocal qualities (such as stammering, whispering, and brief answers, when these are different from the Elder’s normal manner of speaking.)
  • Changes in physical distance between the Elder and the Bank Employee.
  • Cringing or withdrawing.
  • Sudden expressions of fear.
  • Reluctance to engage in normal conversation.
  • Nervousness or fear of the person accompanying the Elder.
  • Seeming to not be permitted to speak for him/herself.

The following are examples of things that may help in combating Elder Financial Exploitation

Power of Attorney, Representative Payee, Bill Paying Programs, Direct Deposit, Joint Bank Accounts, Advance Directive for Health Care, Living Trusts and Life Estates, Case Management, Conservatorship, Guardianship, Civil or Criminal Action for Recovery, Multidisciplinary Teams, Public Education for Older Adults, their Families and the Community, and Training Programs for Professionals.

It is important to remember that some of these tools (particularly Powers of Attorney) can be part of a Financial Exploitation scam.

People that can help with combating Elder Financial Exploitation:

Family, Friends, Neighbors, Volunteers, Health Care Providers, Attorneys, Law Enforcement, Department of Justice/Medicaid Fraud, Financial Institutions, Non-Profit Agencies, the Media, Government Agencies, Senior Centers, Case Managers, AARP, Community/Senior Advocacy Groups, and Faith Based Organizations.

Contact Information

Lehigh County

Lehigh County Office of Aging and Adult Services
17 S. 7th Street, Room 230
Allentown, PA 18101-2401
Telephone: (610) 782-3034
Fax: (610) 820-2028
Web Site: www.lehighcounty.org
Email: agingandadult@lehighcounty.org
Services:
Apprise: (610) 782-3193
Ombudsmen: (610) 782-3034
Protective Services: (610) 782-3200 or (610) 782-3034

Northampton County

Northampton County Area Agency on Aging
2801 Emrick Boulevard
Bethlehem, PA 18020
Telephone: (610) 829-4540
Fax: (610) 820-2028
Web Site: www.northamptoncounty.org
Email: jmehler@northamptoncounty.org
Services:
Apprise: (610) 829-4507
Ombudsmen: (610) 782-3034
Protective Services: (610) 559-3270

Berks County

Berks County Area Agency on Aging
633 Court Street
County Services Center, 8th Floor
Reading, PA 19601-4303
Telephone: (610) 478-6500
Fax: (610) 478-6886
Web Site: www.berksaging.org
Email: aging@countyofberks.com
Services:
Apprise: (610) 374-3195
Ombudsmen: (610) 478-6500
Protective Services: (610) 478-6500

Schuylkill County:

Schuylkill County Office of Senior Services
110 E. Laurel Boulevard
Pottsville, PA 17901
Telephone: (570) 622-3103
Fax: (570) 622-1732
Web Site: www.co.schuylkill.pa.us
Email: seniorscvs@hotmail.com
Services:
Apprise: (570) 624-3026
Ombudsmen: (570) 628-3931
Protective Services: (800) 832-3313

Other Contact Information

Attorney General's Elder Abuse Hotline

Phone: 1-866-623-2137
Hours of Operation: Monday thru Friday from 8:30 am until 5:00 pm
Fax: (717) 787-1190
Website: www.attorneygeneral.gov
Email: elderabuse@attorneygeneral.gov
Address:
Office of Attorney General
Elder Abuse Unit
14th Floor, Strawberry Square
Harrisburg, PA 17120

Complaints may be submitted by phone or email and can also be submitted through their website using the Elder Abuse Complaint Form or a printable PDF form, which can be mailed to their office.

Statewide Elder Abuse Hotline: 1-800-490-8505 (open 24 hours)

Pennsylvania Department of Aging

Bureau for Advocacy, Protection and Education
Consumer Protection Division
555 Walnut Street, 5th Floor
Harrisburg, PA 17101
Phone (717) 783-1550
Fax: (717) 783-6842

Do Not Call List

The Pennsylvania Do Not Call list
Website: www.attorneygeneral.gov/dnc.aspx
Phone: 1-888-777-3406

The National Do Not Call List
Website: www.donotcall.gov
Phone: 1-888-382-1222