Protecting Our Elders: Help Prevent Scams and AbuseJun 15th, 2011 | By Eric Hovatter | Category: Safe, Sound and Savvy
Mickey Rooney, 90, recently testified before the Senate Special Committee on Aging about abuse he suffered at the hands of his own stepson. To watch the 90-year-old actor speak was both sad, humbling, and a lesson that elder abuse can happen to anyone: rich and famous, or poor and unknown.
This wake-up call comes at a time when law enforcement resources are stretched by budget constraints, and a stumbling economy has thieves out in force. The lesson is clear: It can happen to you, and you need to protect yourself or those close to you.
Some thoughts on financial elder abuse for your consideration and discussion:
Protect account access: Beware of adding a family member or friend to your bank account “for emergencies only” or “in case something happens to me.” Too often, this trusted person drains the senior’s account for personal use. Because you’ve allowed this access, prosecution in these cases can be very difficult. Bottom line: If you want a backup person who can access your funds, consult with an estate planning attorney for safe alternatives.
Helpful scam info: Look online at scamnot.org. This AT&T-sponsored site is designed to educate seniors on the dangers of elder abuse and ongoing scams, with links to local and state agencies, senior resources and a forum on the latest senior news. It is a great resource, and has forms you can fill out to get information and even inquire about a speaker for your community group.
Alarming statistics: A Cornell University survey suggests that the incidence of elder abuse and exploitation is much higher than previously thought. The study compared statistics gleaned from 4,000 random phone calls to people over 60 with the number of cases reported to law enforcement, agencies serving the aging and other authorities.
For every elder-abuse case reported to a mandated reporter such as law enforcement, financial institutions or medical personnel, there were 23.5 unreported cases. And for every case of elder financial abuse reported to authorities, 43.9 actually occurred.
Although these figures don’t necessarily apply here in Tuolumne County, this study tells me what we already know: Many elders suffer in silence because they have no one to help them, or because they fear possible consequences of reporting the abuse – such as loss of independence.
Hire with care: Now that winter is behind us, there are lots of home and lawn repairs or maintenance to be done. It’s time to get out your tools or, in the case of many elders, hire someone to do the work that they can no longer do. It is also time to beware of scammers.
A few months back, a group of men in Modesto were canvassing neighborhoods soliciting plumbing work. When they were hired they lowered water pressure or damaged the water supply, then returned days later to charge thousands of dollars from homeowners for repairs. The scheme worked on a number of victims, many of them elderly.
We have many upstanding, reputable repair people here in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties, and they do great work. But always check references, don’t contract on the spot, and ask family or trusted friends for advice if you aren’t sure what you are getting into.
Learn more: If there is an area of elder-abuse prevention you want to learn more about, please contact the Tuolumne County District Attorney’s Office (588-5450) or FAN (536-1755) and submit your idea, which I will address in a future article.
Eric Hovatter is a Deputy District Attorney for Tuolumne County.
© 2011 Friends and Neighbors