For seniors, financial exploitation often leads to forms of abuse

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Amy Kurlansky
Amy L. Kurlansky, Esq., is the Pro Seniors, Inc. Legal Fellow for The Annie W. and Elizabeth M. Anderson Legal Fellowship for the Prevention and Resolution of Financial Exploitation of Seniors.

Elder Abuse can take many forms.  It can be physical, emotional, or sexual abuse; neglect or self-neglect; abandonment; or financial exploitation.  Abusers can have many faces. They can be strangers, friends, family, caregivers or even trusted community members.  Some types of elder abuse are crimes, and others are types of domestic violence.  All of them are wrong.

Unfortunately, elder financial abuse and expoitation is a subject I know all too well.  As an attorney, my focus is on the financial exploitation of seniors.  Financial exploitation can look like the scams we often hear about (the Grandparent Scam, the IRS scam, or any scam asking for Social Security or Medicare numbers). It can be the caretaker who steals money from their client, or a family member who misuses their legal financial authority. In my practice, I have seen these forms of abuse and more.  Sadly, when a senior is financially exploited – whether by a stranger, trusted caretaker or family member – they are often the victim of other forms of abuse. 

I have noticed that when a victim’s abuser is a family member, they are more likely to be subjected to other forms of abuse.  For example, I worked with a client whose niece took his monthly income and refused to pay for his daily needs.  He went without food, toiletries and new clothes because she controlled his money. Finally, in an effort to get help, he reported to authorities that his niece was not only taking his money, she was also physically abusing him. Law enforcement told him he was an adult and advised him to walk away from the situation.

But how could he?  His abuser had control of all of his money, he had no resources to use for himself, and now he felt that the police did not believe him or take his situation seriously.  These dynamics are so very similar to domestic violence scenarios.  And situations like this happen more often than we might think.  This man reported his situation to police, but experts believe that for every case of elder abuse or neglect reported, as many as 23 cases go unreported.

I worked with another woman whose son emotionally abused her for years – yelling at her, calling her names, telling her she was incapable of caring for herself. She heard it so many times, she believed it.  And, when he took over her home and started stealing her money, she was not quite sure where to turn.  She found solace and support in some new friends in her community.  They stepped up to help restore her self-confidence and her ability to make her own decisions.  For the first time in years, she was empowered to stand up for herself and take her life back with her new network of support.

I could tell countless stories of clients and the trials they have faced as part of their abuse.  And, I could quote statistics about how an estimated $2.9 billion was stolen from seniors in 2009, and how people over 60 are the single greatest targets for a number of different scams.  I can tell you how “caretakers” financially exploit vulnerable, socially isolated seniors, knowing it will be difficult for the senior to speak up against their caretaker, who is perhaps their closest relationship.

Although the epidemic of elder abuse and financial exploitation can be daunting, The National Center on Elder Abuse, a division of the U.S. Administration of Aging, suggests several things anyone can do to prevent elder abuse.  It is also important to understand and recognize the signs of financial abuse and exploitation

In a perfect world, we would all start to recognize elder abuse and financial exploitation as the domestic violence that it is and work to make it a thing of the past.  It sounds so simple to say that we should treat each other with respect, especially seniors, but once we recognize that elder abuse is here, in our community, we can shed light on it and drag the abusers out of the shadows. 

If you suspect that a senior is a victim of elder abuse or exploitation and is in immediate danger, call 911.  In Hamilton County, reports of elder abuse should be made to Adult Protective Services (a division of the Hamilton County Department of Job and Family Services), at (513) 421-LIFE (5433).

Click here for information on how to report suspected abuse in other counties. 

Amy L. Kurlansky, Esq., is the Pro Seniors, Inc. Legal Fellow for The Annie W. and Elizabeth M. Anderson Legal Fellowship for the Prevention and Resolution of Financial Exploitation of Seniors.