Elder exploitation on the rise
BY PHIL MULKINS World Action Line Editor
Wednesday, July 11, 2012
7/11/12 at 3:19 AM
A major new survey of 762 experts on financial exploitation of the elderly, conducted by the nonprofit Investor Protection Trust, showed 84 percent of them agree that "the problem of swindles targeting the elderly is getting worse today."
Survey participants included securities regulators, adult protective services workers, medical professionals, law enforcement officials and others on the front lines of elder financial abuse prevention.
Nearly all respondents said 75 percent of older Americans are "very vulnerable" and that 24 percent are "somewhat vulnerable" to financial swindles.
Senior financial fraud: Released last month in conjunction with World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15, the IPT survey ( tulsaworld.com/IPTelderinvestfraud) also found that 58 percent deal with elderly victims of investment fraud/financial exploitation "quite often" or "somewhat often" and 96 percent say the problem of elderly investment fraud/financial exploitation in the U.S. is "very serious" (70 percent) or "somewhat serious" (26 percent). A 2010 IPT Elder Fraud Survey ( tulsaworld.com/IPT2010survey) revealed 7 million older Americans - one of every five people over 65 - were already swindle victims.
"The message from those on the front lines of investor protection is swindles targeting older Americans are a bigger problem than ever before," said Don Blandin, IPT president and CEO. "We have trained 3,000 U.S. medical professionals who deal every day with older Americans to spot the impaired mental capacity that can leave seniors vulnerable to financial abuse. We must prevent financial swindles before the damage is done."
Oklahoma law: When someone uses coercion, harassment or deception to misuse or steal an older person's money or property, that is "elder financial exploitation." Oklahoma Title 43A Chapter 1 Section 10-103, the "Protective Services for Vulnerable Adults Act" - tulsaworld.com/OKSrabuselaw - makes exploiting an elderly or vulnerable adult, under another person's care, a felony.
Violation of Title 21 Chapter 30 Section 843.1, the Oklahoma "Abuse, Neglect or Financial Exploitation by Caretaker Act" - tulsaworld.com/OKSr$abuselaw - excluding sexual abuse, is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of not more than $10,000.
DHS enforcement: In Oklahoma, the Department of Human Services' Adult Protective Services ( tulsaworld.com/OKDHSSrlaw) largely is in charge of enforcing these two laws. They define "elder abuse" as "any knowing, intentional or negligent act by a caregiver or any other person that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to a vulnerable adult."
Warning signs of elderly financial abuse: The APS lists the following signs: Frequent expensive gifts from vulnerable adult to caregiver; vulnerable adult's personal belongings, papers, credit cards missing; many unpaid bills; a recent will when vulnerable adult seems incapable of writing a will; signing over deeds to property; caregiver's name added to bank account; vulnerable adult unaware of monthly income; vulnerable adult signs on loan; frequent checks made out to "cash;" unusual activity in bank account; irregularities on tax returns; vulnerable adult unaware of reason for appointment with banker or attorney; caregiver's refusal to spend money on vulnerable adult; or signatures on checks or legal documents that do not resemble vulnerable adult's.
Resource center is advocate for senior security
The mission of the Senior Law Resource Center in Oklahoma City ( tulsaworld.com/SLRC) is "to empower Oklahomans to age with independence, dignity and security by providing them high-quality, affordable legal information, resources and services."
Its website advises senior citizens to "minimize the risk of elder exploitation by keeping active and by staying in regular contact with friends, family and neighbors." It advises them to observe the following.
Secure financial information: Use direct deposit for Social Security checks and retirement benefits. Keep debit and credit cards, checkbooks and other valuables hidden away from visitors. Review financial statements monthly, especially if someone else is paying bills and managing your accounts. Open a post office box, especially if you are caring for a vulnerable adult. Be cautious granting authority or home access to others. Think twice before letting family, friends or tenants live in your house.
Power of attorney: Be careful choosing the person to whom you grant "durable power of attorney." Before you sign a durable power of attorney, set up a system of checks and balances in it so no one person has complete control. As long as you have capacity, you can change or revoke a durable power of attorney. You do not lose any rights to manage your own affairs when you grant power of attorney to another person. Read more on the durable power of attorney at tulsaworld.com/DurPowAtt
Hiring help: Treat home care workers as employees, not friends. When hiring home help or other care workers, have a trusted friend or relative conduct the interview with you. Before hiring a home health-care aide, conduct criminal background checks on applicants. The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation will conduct a criminal background check for $15. Read more at tulsaworld.com/OSBICrimHist
OSBI Headquarters: Requests for criminal background checks are accepted in person at OSBI headquarters or through the U.S. mail: OSBI Headquarters, Broadway Executive Office Park, 6600 N. Harvey, Oklahoma City, OK 73116. The bureau also can be reached at 405-848-6724. In person, the check takes 10 to 15 minutes. By mail it takes one to three weeks.
Senior Law Center: Contact the Senior Law Resource Center, P.O. Box 1408, Oklahoma City, OK 73101-1408; or call 405-528-0858 or fax 405-601-2134 or email email@example.com.
Tulsa World consumer writer Phil Mulkins wants to know which topics interest you. Call 918-699-8888, email your suggestion to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail it to Tulsa World Consumer, P.O. Box 1770, Tulsa, OK 74102-1770.
JASON POWERS / Tulsa World