Working to stop senior exploitation
Brokers and other financial professionals have been added to the list of those charged with watching for suspected exploitation of older and vulnerable people.
They were included in AB51, joining a long list of professionals from law enforcement to medical providers and even bankers in an effort to stop the growing problem of seniors in particular being exploited by everyone from caregivers to scam artists, so-called friends and, most disturbingly, their own children and other family members.
“Often the children have the power of attorney and mom or dad trusts them,” said Carrie Embree, Elder Rights Chief for the Nevada Division of Aging Services. “We see it happen for all sorts of reasons and we don’t understand.”
While the division is concerned with a laundry list of abuses ranging from simple neglect to sexual abuse, financial exploitation is the most common. And, according to a Journal of General Medicine study in 2014, more often than not, the perpetrator was a relative.
The problem isn’t rare either. The Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards has reported up to 77 percent of their members say they have experience with a senior subjected to financial exploitation.
Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, whose staff will set up and monitor the training now required of financial advisers, managers and brokers, said financial abuse costs victims an estimated $2.9 billion a year nationwide. She said those brokers, like other financial professionals such as bankers, must now attend training to learn the warning signs of exploitation and what to do if they are suspicious.
Diana Foley, securities administrator for the Secretary of State, said there was “kind of a hole” in the list of those who have to report suspected abuse.”
Embree said they were added to the list because those financial managers and advisers often have a long-standing relationship with the potential victims and were in a position to spot something wrong.
“They are in a unique position where they can see if when there are some uncharacteristic financial transactions happening,” she said.
She said that could be anything from a series of withdrawals, showing the senior may be starting to give away large amounts of money.
“If they’ve known them for six or eight years then suddenly they start doing that, it could be a red flag,” she said.
A report by the National Center on Elder Abuse said financial exploitation can take many forms including cashing a vulnerable person’s checks without permission, forging their signature on documents, stealing possessions or coercing a senior into signing documents such as contracts, a will or power of attorney.
Financial theft, the report states, is typically between $1,000 and $5,000 per transaction but can be more extensive ranging up to real estate transactions.
And it’s far more common than most believe.
A study by Met Life Insurance estimated there are as many as a million victims a year in the U.S.
In Fiscal 2014, there were 6,033 allegations of exploitation and abuse in Nevada, according to Embree. She said 1,262 of them were confirmed cases.
In that total were 272 reports in Carson City, 130 in Douglas and 115 in Churchill counties. Substantiated reports total 108 in Carson, 42 in Douglas and 50 in Churchill.
More disturbingly, she said, experts believe for every case reported another 23 go unreported, often because senior victims are embarrassed or just don’t want to accuse a loved one.
Sometimes, she said, they just don’t know who to call for help.
Nationally, according to Adult Protective Services, the typical victim is 79-89 years old, white, female, frail and cognitively impaired.
“She is trusting of others and may be lonely or isolated,” the agency report states.
Embree said the social isolation is a key risk factor.
If an elder is socially isolated or withdrawn, they’re by themselves,” she said.
That opens the door for any one from a long time friend to a family member or neighbor to gain their trust.
She said poor physical health, dementia and even substance abuse are risk factors that make those seniors even more vulnerable.
Family members, especially children, are often the perpetrators and Embree said it’s often because the child involved has “issues going on.”
“Substance abuse issues can really intensify the exploitation,” she said.
They need the money to pay for their drug habit or a gambling habit or something similar. As a result, 1,288 of the 5,667 case reports involved the victim’s child, 507 their spouse and 562 another relative.
But caregivers are also high on the list, accounting for 636 of those complaints.
Caregivers, some licensed but others not — like a friend or neighbor who volunteers to help out — too often take advantage of the senior victim.
The key, according to Embree, is to be aware when something involving a senior or other vulnerable person you know just doesn’t look right and report it.
That report can be made either to the Aging and Disability Services Division at 888-729-0571 or to local law enforcement.
That prompts Elder Protective Services to send a social worker to check the allegations out and see if there’s enough evidence to believe something is happening.
“Even if you don’t know, we encourage people to report,” she said.