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May 28, 2012

Prevention is Key to Stopping Elderly Abuse

May 24, 2012
By JAN FALSTAD


A Lewistown social worker said she can’t do anything to help a brain-injured elderly man who sold his house for a couple hundred dollars to his caretaker, gave her power of attorney over his affairs and let her kids inherit his estate.
It all comes down to proving the man doesn’t know what he's doing and that is a tough legal test.
“I’m crying out for help,” said Adult Protective Services social worker Laura Tucek, who said the caretaker still has her job and control over this man.
One in four elderly Montanans fall victim to scams. Prevention, not prosecution, is the only sure-fire way to cut down on this type of fraud, according to a Thursday conference on elder abuse at the Bighorn Resort in Billings.
Keynote speaker Bob Blancato, national coordinator of the Elder Justice Coalition in Washington, D.C., said federal laws and funding to prevent senior abuse are lagging far behind laws protecting children that were passed 40 years ago.
“Less than 2 percent of the current spending went to fighting elder abuse, but that’s where the fraud growth is,” he said.
In 2009, seniors lost an estimated $2.6 million to fraud. That grew to $2.9 billion last year, Blancato said, but those losses are almost certainly on the low side because so many seniors refuse to admit they’ve been victimized.
Two years ago, Congress passed the elder abuse protection act that called for spending $777 million per year on this goal.
“But we haven’t seen a nickel go to this program yet,” he said, because Congress failed to pass the funding bill. Blancato urged the audience to call Montana Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester and U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg and ask them to support programs to prevent elder abuse and to protect women.
As a rural state with an older population, Montana is sweet hunting grounds for scam artists.
The most successful and common scams in Montana are the grandparent scam where a caller pretends to be a grandchild in trouble in Canada, asking the victim to wire money and not tell anyone.
Sweepstakes winner scams are everywhere and so are the sweetheart scams. That generally involves attractive women striking up conversations with wealthy, elderly men, who are usually veterans, in stores at night and convincing them to give them expensive items like jewelry and furniture.
Wire fraud scams, especially from overseas, are almost impossible to prosecute.
“Once that money is wired, it’s very difficult to track what people it goes to,” said FIB special agent John Teeling. “Organized crime is what we’re talking about. Shut-ins and isolated people are especially vulnerable.”
June 15 is elder abuse awareness day.
Elderly women are twice as likely to be scammed as men, but men more often fall victims to fraud involving their investments.
Once someone becomes a senior, they need to focus on protecting themselves, Teeling said.
“Age 70 is the game-changer. You’re a senior. You need to hunker down and protect your assets,” he said.
At some point, caretakers – family, friends or an institution – have to be trusted to help an elderly person made decisions and handle their affairs.
But Teeling, a trained accountant, said to avoid fraud, don’t give all the power to one person. Three people should be involved: a custodian to manage the business affairs, a record keeper to reconcile bank statements and a check writer.
Don’t let the check writer pick up the mail, which can contain pre-approved credit card offers. And don’t give financial power to anyone with an addiction, he said.
“They better not be a gambler or a druggie,” Teeling said.

SOURCE:     The BillingsGazette
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