Unfortunately seniors often become the target of unscrupulous people looking to take advantage of their trusting nature or cognitive and physical disabilities. Sometimes the abuser is a stranger but all too frequently the abuser is a trusted caregiver or family member. Many incidents of financial and other abuse go unreported because the senior is too embarrassed to admit they have been scammed or they are trying to protect a loved one. Paul Greenwood, D.A., Elder Abuse Prosecutor from the San Diego District Attorney’s Office, suggests that loved ones of seniors can help prevent abuse by regular contact. Checking in as frequently as possible with seniors living alone allows loved ones to keep abreast of situations that may be developing and intervene before a loved one is taken advantage of.
Elder abuse takes several forms:
Physical abuse – pushing, shoving, slapping, etc. It is a felony if there is willful abuse that is likely to cause an injury even if an injury has not occurred.
Physical Neglect – occurs when someone who is in a position of care (paid or unpaid) willfully neglects the senior they are caring for – for example denying medical care resulting in an injury such as a bed sore.
False imprisonment – locking a senior in a room or unlawfully restraining them to prevent wandering.
Emotional or Mental Abuse – threats and conduct that results in physical health issues from the stress inflicted.
Financial exploitation – taking more than $950 from a senior unlawfully is a felony in California. DA Greenwood says that the typical case they see is a 35-55 year old son who lives with the senior parent and is addicted to alcohol, gambling or drugs and steals from the parent to support their addiction.
Here are some tips to keep yourself or a senior you love safe:
1. Always choose a caregiver with caution. Don’t find caregivers on Craig’s List, newspaper ads, bulleting boards, etc. There is no current law requiring background checks in CA – even if you use a bonded agency question them about their background checking process. It is not sufficient to simply check the County criminal database. A thorough check includes a national criminal background check including DMV record.
2. Keep an inventory of all jewelry – this is the number one item stolen from homes – keep it locked up and photograph your valuable pieces to help track it down in the case of a theft.
3. Protect your mail and use a shredder – mailbox theft is rampant and is used in identity theft schemes. Shredding prevents valuable personal information from getting in the wrong hands.
4. Obtain a credit report on yourself a few times each year – this allows you to discover if someone is using your identity to open credit accounts.
5. Get Caller ID on your phone – crooks love the phone and seniors are often too polite on the phone. Caller ID allows you to see “private” or “unknown” come up on incoming calls – a tip to be especially wary of the caller!
6. Let your bank send a copy of your monthly statement to a loved one or trusted advisor – Most elder financial abuse cases are reported 6-9 months after they occur. An independent pair of eyes on your statement can help spot new suspicious activities and stop them at the early stages.
7. Don’t Assume the friendly handyman that calls or comes to the door is licensed or even a handyman – always obtain 3 estimates before starting any work and check with the Better Business Bureau and Contractor’s State Licensing Board. The license number on someone’s business card does not mean the person is qualified – in fact it could have been stolen. Also, never pay more than 10% of the agreed to price up front.
8. Always have a second line of defense at your front door – a second line of defense such as a locked screen door or a security chain allows you to communicate with strangers without letting them gain entry to your home. Crooks may attempt to gain entry by saying there is a fake emergency or having false uniforms or badges. Never allow a stanger in your home even if the emergency seems real – tell them you will call 911.
If you believe a senior is being abused or taken advantage of the first step is to call Adult Protective Services. Abuse often escalates if the abuse is not reported. Stay in touch with your elderly loved ones on a regular basis – the more often the better. By doing so you can help them avoid the possibility of a thief or scammer taking advantage of them!