Protecting seniors against financial exploitation

via Protect seniors against financial abuse, clarionledger.com

PDF: Protect Seniors against financial abuse

Financial exploitation of seniors is heartbreaking and tragic, and it happens every day. Occasionally, you’ll read about it in the news or see it mentioned on social media, but these reports usually are about large-scale crimes. Most incidents happen outside the glare of the public spotlight.

Financial exploitation robs seniors of the financial resources on which they depend to live. Increasingly, older Americans are targeted with scams, too-good-to-be-true sales pitches, outrageous fines and fees, theft of their bank accounts and credit cards by people they trusted and even victimization by their own caregivers. A retirement nest egg, accumulated over decades, can be gone in minutes and with it the hope of a happy retirement.

Earlier this month, the Mississippi attorney general’s office announced the sentencing of a 54-year-old Laurel woman after she pleaded guilty to three counts of exploitation of a vulnerable person. Lisa Byrd Mozingo, who was employed as a caregiver to an elderly person, was accused of transferring the victim’s money into her own account and using the victim’s power of attorney to buy cars, silver coins and other items. In all, the damage totaled more than $100,000. Under the plea deal, Mozingo will serve 10 years in prison (with an additional 10 years suspended, plus five years’ supervision) and will have to pay back the money and perform community service.

According to a 2011 MetLife study, an estimated $2.9 billion is lost annually to scams explicitly targeting seniors. It’s one of the most common forms of abuse committed against seniors, notes the American Bankers Association Foundation. And most experts agree that elder financial abuse is under-reported; some experts believe that only one case in 44 is ever reported to authorities.

The problem is twofold: First, seniors hold a lot of the money in the U.S. economy, making it a tempting target for those who would seek to get their hands on it. Secondly, as many seniors age, they become less able to make good financial decisions, and in some cases suffer from dementia or other cognitive issues.

“Older Americans currently hold more than two-thirds of all U.S. deposits, making them highly susceptible to scams, exploitation and abuse,” said Corey Carlisle, bankers foundation executive director. “It’s critical that seniors and their loved ones recognize the signs of financial abuse before it’s too late and get help immediately if they think they’ve been victimized.”

The financial industry is stepping up with tools to help combat elder financial abuse. Last year, the North American Securities Administrators Association started requiring financial advisers to report suspected financial abuses to states’ securities regulators and adult protective services departments. At the federal level, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission will in February begin requiring its broker-dealer members to add a trusted backup contact person for all accounts and to allow members to put temporary holds on fund disbursements when financial exploitation is suspected. And the Investor Protection Trust is training physicians and attorneys to be on the lookout for warning signs of financial vulnerability.

These are all steps in the right direction, but they can’t solve the problem on their own. As the old adage goes, the best defense is a good offense. If you’re a senior, or are responsible for helping a loved one make financial decisions, there are some things you can do to reduce the risk of financial exploitation. The bankers foundation suggests these actions:

First, plan ahead. Talk to someone at your financial institution, an attorney or financial adviser about the best options for you in managing your money and assets.

Choose someone you trust to act as your agent. You may need to look beyond your family members; tragically, a substantial percentage of financial exploitation is committed by relatives of the victim.

Never give personal information, including your Social Security, account number or other financial information to anyone over the phone unless you initiated the call and the other party is trusted.

Stay alert to common fraud schemes. There are many scams targeting seniors, and they know how to get past your defenses. In the past, I’ve written about the “grandparent scam,” in which a scammer purporting to be a grandchild calls you and says they urgently need your help. And seniors are targeted every day with travel scams, pitches for products and investments and scary warnings that the IRS or Social Security or law enforcement is coming after you if you don’t pay up.

Never rush into a financial decision. Ask for details in writing and consult with a financial adviser or attorney before signing any document you don’t understand.

Check references and credentials before hiring anyone. Don’t allow workers to have access to information about your finances and make sure to lock up your checkbook, account statements and other sensitive information when others will be in your home.

Pay with checks and credit cards instead of cash to keep a paper trail.

You have the right not to be threatened or intimidated. If you believe you are a victim of elder financial abuse, contact your local Adult Protective Services, tell someone at your bank or call your local police for help.

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Financial abuse often unreported

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via Financial abuse often unreported

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Financial abuse is taking advantage of financial resources of individuals who are unable to handle their own financial affairs, or who may be isolated, unsupported or otherwise unable to protect themselves. Often, victims are elderly and may be a resident of a nursing home, personal care facility or other type of institution. Financial abuse of patients in a personal care home or nursing home is a crime of opportunity, in which someone who has been placed in a position of trust takes advantage of a person at the most vulnerable time in his or her life.

Financial abuse statistics show this crime probably is underreported and often undetected. But occasionally, there is news of an arrest. Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood announced recently that two Ridgeland residents had been arrested and charged with exploitation of a vulnerable adult.

According to a news release from Hood’s office, investigators with the attorney general’s Vulnerable Adult Unit and Hinds County Sheriff’s Department last week arrested Renee Hope Netherland, aka Renee Lester, 42, and Henry Thomas McAlister III, 47, both of Ridgeland. A Hinds County grand jury indicted Netherland and McAlister on one count each of exploitation of vulnerable adult.

According to the indictment, Netherland and McAlister are accused of “obtaining a debit card belonging to a patient in a Jackson care facility and using the card to make withdrawals and purchases totaling $250 or more without the consent of the victim, then converting the money to their own use.”

If convicted, each defendant faces up to 10 years in prison and a $5,000 fine. “As with all cases, a charge is merely an accusation, and the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law,” the release noted.

The case will be prosecuted by Special Assistant Attorney General Bob Anderson of the attorney general’s Public Integrity Division.

Hood noted that technology helps enable financial crimes such as credit card fraud, requiring greater vigilance to deter, detect and address. “I encourage all Mississippians to educate themselves on the signs of credit card fraud so they will recognize it and know what to do if they encounter it,” he said.

According to the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, there aresome red flags that might indicate financial abuse of a vulnerable person. Here are a few:

  • Withdrawals from bank accounts or transfers between accounts that the person cannot explain.
  • New “best friends.”
  • Legal documents, such as powers of attorney, which the person didn’t understand at the time he or she signed them.
  • Missing belongings or property.
  • Unusual activity in the person’s bank accounts including large, unexplained withdrawals, frequent transfers between accounts, or ATM withdrawals.

Hood added that all consumers should be on guard to protect their financial information. “Always remember to be protective of account information and to regularly monitor credit card or bank statements for unusual activity,” he advised. “Consumers should also make sure to shred account documents before throwing them away.”

In addition, if you think that you or a loved one has become a victim of credit card fraud, call the attorney general’s Consumer Protection Division at 1-800-281-4418, or visit http://www.agjimhood.com for more information and resources.

Crack down on elder abuse

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via Moak: Crack down on elder abuse, clarionledger.com

PDF: The_Clarion-Ledger_State_20160521_A002_2

A disgusting trend has been taking place across the globe in the past few years; elderly people are increasingly becoming targets of abuse of all types. Frequently, seniors are vulnerable in every way — physically, emotionally and financially. It’s a sad state of affairs when we have to report elderly abuse on a regular basis in the pages of this newspaper, reflecting a sad reality that as our population gets older, they can increasingly fall victim.

Just last week, Sharon Sallie of Booneville was sentenced to 10 years in prison after a Tippah County jury found her guilty of false pretense and conspiracy after she and two compatriots convinced an elderly resident to “loan” her $15,000, which would be paid upon settlement of a medical lawsuit. However, an investigation found the settlement and lawsuit didn’t exist. Previously, two others, Ahmad Fryar of Ripley and Jessica Plaxico of Booneville had been found guilty on similar charges associated with the case. Sallie will also have to pay $15,518.25 in restitution and court costs.

My own understanding of this problem is largely the result of the efforts of one man. For years, Don Sullivan served as a tireless advocate for stopping abuse of the elderly. This tough-as-nails former FBI special agent and state agency head practiced what he preached, putting his personal time and resources into defending the rights of the elderly. Sadly, Don died in 2007, but not before founding the Elder Justice Center, which helped elderly crime victims, and helping educate many people — including me — about this pernicious and often-hidden crime. He was also heavily involved in the Mississippi Leadership Council on Aging, which equips law enforcement personnel with the tools to help elderly citizens, and brings citizens together with local law enforcement to keep watch over vulnerable adults in their communities.

Don’s legacy is secure, but the fight goes on.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Elder abuse affects about one in 10 people over 60 who live at home. The CDC is quick to point out that’s likely to be a very conservative estimate, because elder abuse often goes unreported. Many elderly victims lack the mobility or knowledge to report abuse, and may shy away from reporting it because of shame, embarrassment, or even fear of their abusers. The National Center on Elder Abuse claims that between one and two million adults 65 or over “have been injured, exploited, or otherwise mistreated by someone on whom they depended for care or protection.”

According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Administration on Aging, elder abuse takes many forms, including the following:

  • Physical Abuse — inflicting physical pain or injury on a senior, e.g. slapping, bruising or restraining by physical or chemical means.
  • Sexual Abuse — non-consensual sexual contact of any kind.
  • Neglect — the failure by those responsible to provide food, shelter, health care or protection for a vulnerable elder.
  • Exploitation — the illegal taking, misuse, or concealment of funds, property or assets of a senior for someone else’s benefit.
  • Emotional Abuse — inflicting mental pain, anguish or distress on an elder person through verbal or nonverbal acts, e.g. humiliating, intimidating, or threatening.
  • Abandonment — desertion of a vulnerable elder by anyone who has assumed the responsibility for care or custody of that person.
  • Self-neglect — characterized as the failure of a person to perform essential, self-care tasks and that such failure threatens his/her own health or safety.

The Administration on Agring notes there are a few telltale signs of abuse:

  • Bruises, pressure marks, broken bones, abrasions and burns. They may indicate physical abuse, neglect or mistreatment.
  • Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, a sudden change in alertness and unusual depression may signify emotional abuse.
  • Bruises around the breasts or genital area can occur from sexual abuse.
  • Sudden changes in financial situations may be the result of exploitation.
  • Bedsores, unattended medical needs, poor hygiene and unusual weight loss are indicators of possible neglect.
  • Behavior such as belittling, threats and other uses of power and control by spouses are indicators of verbal or emotional abuse.
  • Strained or tense relationships, frequent arguments between the caregiver and elderly person can also be signs of abuse.

Mississippi’s seniors are protected by a section of state law called the Vulnerable Adults Act of 1986. This law requires “any person, care facility or professional employee who has knowledge of or reasonable cause to believe that a ‘vulnerable adult’ has been the victim of abuse, neglect, or exploitation” must report it to either the Mississippi Department of Human Services (for home health agency reports) or the Mississippi State Department of Health (for other care facility reports or reports by private persons). The law creates special criminal penalties for elderly abuse, with extended prison sentences and heavy fines. The law also gives immunity from prosecution to those (other than the perpetrators) who report elderly abuse.

Since much of the enforcement of the law comes from the Mississippi attorney general’s office, I asked Attorney General Jim Hood to tell me what his office does to stop elder abuse. “Scams against seniors will not be tolerated, and those who violate our senior citizens in any way will be prosecuted,” he replied. “Whether it is physical abuse by a caregiver or fraud by a stranger over the Internet, our office pursues investigations and prosecutions of all forms of elder abuse. Often, the targeted seniors lose a lifetime of savings in one scam, or they are abused by a loved one or caregiver over a long period of time.”

Since 2004, the AG’s office’s Division of Medicaid Fraud Control and Vulnerable Adults Units have together convicted more than 525 people of abuse, neglect and exploitation of care facility patients or residents, with many of those targeting seniors. And Hood has strong words for would-be offenders: “Those who harm our elderly should take note that we will come after you with the full force of our office to protect those who often cannot protect themselves.”