Elders are vulnerable to financial exploitation

Financial exploitation of senior citizens is a hidden major crime in America today.

This crime is the theft or embezzlement of money or property. It can range from stealing cash to manipulating a victim into giving all of his property to an abuser.

The Senate Special Committee on Aging estimates that there are as many as 5 million cases of elder abuse and neglect victims each year. The National Elder Abuse Incidence Study indicates that only 16 percent of abusive situations are referred to the authorities.

This form of elder abuse occurs constantly. The elderly are targets because:

  • People over 50 have 70 percent of the nation's wealth.
  • Many seniors don't know what their property is worth.
  • Elders often are disabled, requiring help from others. These "helpers" gain access to the senior's estate and get influence over the older person.

Knowing that most elders are vulnerable, with physical or mental deficiencies in vision and memory, etc., predatory people win the victim's confidence by acting friendly, considerate and helpful. They promise to care for him forever.

Soon these predatory "helpers" begin taking the elder's possessions. They may entice the senior to sign a power of attorney (available in stationery stores), deed or will through deception, intimidation or "undue influence." What is "undue influence?" This is action by someone who is trusted by the senior to coerce a vulnerable person into giving away money or property — directly, through a will or trust, or through marriage.

The predator will lie to the elder, convincing him that nobody else loves him, that everyone else only wants his money and property. The victim then transfers his affection to the predator. He may think of the predator as his "savior."

As the victim gradually puts his trust in the predator, the predator begins to isolate him from people who might upset the predator's plans. Attempts by others to visit the victim are discouraged or allowed only in the predator's presence.

Now the predator begins to manipulate the victim through overmedication, acts of intimidation and/or threats until the victim agrees to deed over his property or draw up a will to benefit the predator.

Then the predator brings in unscrupulous professionals (attorneys and/or financial advisers) to change the victim's estate plans. The victim's relatives and friends are not informed about these meetings. A new will is drawn up in haste and secrecy. As a result, the victim ends up giving all of his property to the predator. The victim's family learns of a new will only after the death of the victim.

I have tried to show how this scam works. This heinous crime is occurring every day throughout America and will continue until action is taken to protect the elderly. Although Gov. Ted Kulongoski has a task force on elder abuse, several states (such as New York, California, Florida — visit their Web sites) are far ahead of Oregon in protecting elders.

At this time predators don't seem to have much to worry about in Oregon. Inasmuch as we are all growing older, everybody could become a target of this crime. All citizens must encourage the authorities to end this disgraceful activity. The elderly are as vulnerable as children, and who would tolerate child abuse?

As King County, Wash., Prosecutor Dan Satterburg put it last September, "Our culture does not have a rich tradition of honoring our elders. If our culture is developing with an ethic to put our seniors out to pasture, is it any surprise that there are people in that pasture waiting to victimize them?"

Here are numbers you can call to report elder abuse:

Medford Senior Services (State of Oregon), 776-6222. Office of the Long Term Care Ombudsman, 800-522-2602. Governor's Advocacy Office, 800-442-6238.

Darrell C. Monk lives in Medford.

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