SENIORS ARE PRIME TARGETS ELDER FINANCIAL ABUSE AMONG FASTEST-GROWING CRIMES, LOCKYER SAYS.
With financial crimes against senior citizens skyrocketing and California's elderly population expected to double in the next 20 years, experts are scrambling to combat what they consider the ``crime of the 21st century.''
The crimes range from dishonest contractors who swindle a naive homeowner to trusted advisers who embezzle a client's life savings. And it's becoming more prevalent, with reports of elder financial abuse soaring statewide, from 7,733 in 2000 to 11,345 in 2004. In Los Angeles County, 2,537 cases of elder financial abuse were reported last year, nearly double the 1,359 in 2000.
The California Welfare Directors Association says only a very small percentage of elder financial abuse cases are reported, so it's likely that as many as 225,000 seniors in California and 76,500 in Los Angeles are victimized each year.
``Elder abuse is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the country today,'' Attorney General Bill Lockyer said.
Already, people over the age of 50 control at least 70 percent of the nation's household net worth - partially a result of high housing values - and are frequent targets for exploitation.
``You can look at the increase in property values and see that elders who have equity in their home might be more vulnerable to a financial predator, such as a contractor, predatory lender or even a family member,'' said Jenefer Duane, chief executive officer of the San Francisco-based Elder Financial Protection Network.
``Some people think, 'Oh, it's only money.' But, in fact, it's everything an elderly person has worked their entire life for. And to have that taken away from you can represent a betrayal of trust, a heartbreak that can cause the death of a senior.''
Statistics show that senior financial abuse victims are three times more likely to die from the resulting stress and depression.
To help combat elder financial abuse, the network and the Los Angeles- based Pacific Resource Credit Union will host an educational conference Thursday at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels for attorneys, financial professionals and elected officials on ways to protect the elderly.
The results of the conference will help lay the groundwork for a law that will take effect Jan. 1 that requires bank and credit union employees to report elder financial abuse.
``We are able to spot patterns,'' said Gary Hails, vice president of lending at the credit union. ``If we see something outright fraudulent, we certainly report it to the police.''
Michael Garguilo, deputy in charge of the District Attorney's Office's Elder Abuse Section, said a bank teller recently foiled a scam that involved a 52-year-old dance instructor who tried to transfer $600,000 from his 88-year-old partner's account on the pretext of changing banks.
The teller became suspicious and contacted the Torrance Police Department. The man was eventually convicted of financial elder abuse and sentenced to 18 months in state prison, Garguilo said.
About 75 percent of the victims of financial abuse are 70 to 89 years old, and 60 percent to 90 percent of the perpetrators are relatives or caregivers.
The types of scams range from stealing an elderly person's debit or credit cards to home improvement and telemarketing scams and investment fraud and predatory lending.
``Lottery scams are huge,'' Duane said. ``Seniors receive mail (saying) that they have won a huge amount of money, but they need to pay taxes and fees upfront. We've seen individuals lose hundreds of thousands of dollars to these types of scams because the person on the other end of the phone is so convincing.''
Dave Kochen, human services administrator for the county's Adult Protective Services, said another common scam is the ``sweetheart swindle,'' in which a younger person acts romantically interested in a lonely senior to bilk him or her out of large sums of money.
Seniors also can fall victim to schemes by dishonest contractors.
``There are a lot of con artists out there who go to a senior's house and offer to pave their driveway and offer a huge discount,'' Kochen said. ``They actually do the job, but it turns out to be a crappy material and completely destroys the driveway.''
To avoid being taken advantage of, Duane recommended that seniors beware of people who contact them; never give out Social Security, financial or other personal information; work only with established home improvement contractors and businesses with verified references; and don't allow in-home caregivers to open mail, pay bills or handle banking.
Experts also recommend that seniors know and trust people before signing a power of attorney for a bank account and to be aware that a power of attorney can be used to ``legally steal'' someone's money and assets.
They also recommend creating a paper trail, using checks and credit cards instead of cash to make payments and to put financial arrangements in writing.
``And never be pressured into a deal,'' Duane said. ``If today is the last day you can get that price, you probably don't want that product. Shop around.''
Troy Anderson, (213) 974-8985
To report elder abuse, call the Los Angeles County Elder Abuse Hotline at (877) 477-3646.
Here are some indicators of financial abuse:
--Withdrawal of large amounts of money from a senior citizen's bank account.
--Accumulation of unpaid bills, particularly when someone is supposed to be paying them.
--Another person's name is added to the client's bank account or important documents.
--Many checks from the elder person's bank account are made out to ``cash.''
Here are the most typical financial crimes:
--ATM, debit and credit cards stolen by relatives or caregivers.
--Deceiving an elderly person to get them to sign loan papers or withdrawal slips.
--Seniors who are deceived by contractors.
--Abuse of power-of-attorney authorization, one of the fastest-growing crimes in America.
--Telemarketing and sweepstakes scams.
Source: Los Angeles County Department of Community and Senior Services
REPORTING ABUSE (see text)
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Mar 15, 2006|
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