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Financial Exploitation of Seniors Totals Nearly $3 Billion per Year

In a study funded by the National Institute of Justice, about one in ten seniors reported being neglected or abused in the past year. Elder abuse lawyers at Pintas & Mullins highlight another significant finding: that the financial exploitation of our nation’s seniors is costing them $2.9 billion every year.

The study also detailed that abused elders are over five times more likely to be admitted to nursing homes or rehab centers, and, unfortunately, more than twice as likely to die prematurely. Kathy Greenlee, the Assistant Secretary for Aging at the Department of Health and Human Services, stated that elder abuse is only going to intensify as the baby boomers age. The number of residents 65 and older in Maryland and Virginia alone, for example, is expected to grow by 88% in the next two decades.

Elder abuse is a complicated problem, particularly because many victims are dependent on their abusers, whether they are nursing home staff, at-home caregivers, or their own family members. Seniors with cognitive disabilities, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s, are significantly more likely to be abused, and yet are often unable to testify in court, or clearly remember the abuse to recount to authorities. When abuse is reported, dozens of federal, state, and local agencies can become involved, resulting in a dizzying system of shared data.

Some schemes to exploit seniors financially are incredibly intricate. One such case involved a computer-generated voice in the guise of Medicare operators, asking seniors for the names and numbers of the bank accounts where their Social Security checks were deposited each month. A woman in Florida, Dottie Drennan, received the automated call one day while relaxing at home.

The computer told her that new Medicare cards were being sent to her in the mail, and her personal information was needed to verify the shipment. The system attempted to check her name, address, and bank information before Drennan hung up. She reported the strange call, and a few weeks later both federal and state authorities issued press releases alerting seniors about this new identify theft scheme.

Florida tops the country in percentage of seniors aged 60 and over, with 4.5 million residents. That number is expected to grow to 9.7 million by 2030. Seniors are susceptible for scams for an array of reasons, such as their social isolation, loneliness, readily available savings, and more trusting attitudes.

A nonprofit education organization, the Investor Protection Trust, estimated that 7.5 million (about one in five) seniors have been victim of some kind of financial fraud. Experts agree, however, that incidents of abuse and neglect are significantly underreported. Officials have estimated that, for every one case reported, anywhere between 14 and 25 incidents are never made public.

Some of the cases are particularly malicious because they involve members of the victims own family, even their own children. One such case was recently discovered in Virginia in 2010. James and Etta Jennings lived in a red brick ranch house their entire married lives, raising children and then grandchildren. In their old age, their son was appointed to take care of them, as they suffered from dementia and complex medical problems. When investigators finally entered the house, the conditions were abysmal, with maggots in the bed and both the husband and wife left to rot without running water or even a fan.

Their son had cashed thousands of dollars in his Etta’s checks, and their granddaughter, Jeannie Beidler, had to resign from her job to manage their health and legal battles. Because of their son’s abuse, the Jennings were deeply in debt, with several accounts past due. Beidler took control of their finances and, over a period of several years, was able to balance their accounts. She prosecuted her uncle, who pleaded guilty to two counts of abuse or neglect of an incapacitated adult, and was ultimately incarcerated for less than three years.

Beidler states that, in hindsight, there were several people who could have intervened, such as the cashier at the convenience store where the checks were being cashed. She states that it is simply a matter of keeping an eye out for elder abuse, and not ignoring signs when you see them.

Elder abuse and neglect lawyers at Pintas & Mullins encourage the public to be aware of the signs of financial exploitation in the elderly, such as unexplained or unpaid bills or transfers, absence of documentation about financial arrangements, changes in wills, unnecessary purchases, and suspicious signatures. If you or a loved one was seriously injured by a negligent or abusive caregiver, you have important legal rights, and may be entitled to compensation.