Meeting addresses elder financial abuse | March 7, 2008 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

Newsfront - March 7, 2008

Meeting addresses elder financial abuse

Every Generation focusing on this 'crime of the 21st century'

by Meghan Neal

For three years Idabelle, 75 years old and living alone in San Ramon, trusted her caregiver to help her with things around the house. Fill up the car with gas, do the laundry. But Idabelle's caregiver was manipulating her out of large sums of money, stealing from her, and taking advantage of her vulnerable position.

"She was probably grasping $1,000 a month out of my auntie," said Idabelle's niece, Cathy Tanconi. "Oh yeah, definitely weaseling her money ... You never think something like that's going to impact your family."

But it does. In fact, the increasing prevalence of elder financial abuse is causing it to be called the crime of the 21st century.

"It is truly bankrupting millions of seniors in our country," said Eloise Sotelo, supervisor at Adult Protective Services, at a meeting last Thursday at the Concord Senior Center.

The assembly was held by Every Generation, a county organization whose goal is to make local communities good places to age. Financial abuse of the elderly will be a major focus of the group.

"Elderly have become prey because they're sitting on a certain amount of security, of wealth," Sotello said. "These people have scrimped and saved and accumulated a good amount of assets. And people, predators, are aware of that."

That plus the fact that with age one's mental capacity begins to slip - hindering people's ability to protect themselves - makes seniors a prime target for financial abuse.

The abuse takes many different forms, from as simple as borrowing money and never paying it back to more serious crimes like identity theft. Doctors will swindle patients out of money by overmedicating and other tricks. Caregivers will charge for services that are never provided. But worst of all, the abusers are usually the victim's own family members - often their children.

And then there are the lottery scams. Con artists - frequently from Nigeria or Canada - will contact seniors and tell them they've won millions of dollars but must first pay a fee to collect it.

Sotelo described a case where a man gave away his entire retirement to a faux Nigerian lottery. No longer able to afford housing, he had to move in with his daughter, who took over managing his finances.

"He would swear today that the president of Nigeria was going to fly in and give him this money," Sotelo sighed.

Danville Police Chief Chris Wenzel said that in Danville a typical case of financial abuse might look like this: A man posing as a contractor knocks on an elderly person's door and offers to repair the roof for a quarter of the regular cost. Then he takes the money and never comes back.

"It's just a con," Wenzel said. "They're trying to convince you ... and make it so attractive that they get your money."

It isn't as simple as assuming all elders are easily duped, though. Sotelo said the perpetrators are slick, professional and convincing. And seniors are perceived as being extra trusting, Wenzel said.

Loneliness plays a part in it too. Often an elderly person living alone won't talk to anyone all day until a predator calls them up and starts asking how they're doing.

Another sticky aspect of the issue is that the victims rarely report the crimes when they occur.

"Sometimes we don't get calls because people are embarrassed that they've been taken," said Wenzel. Or the elders will be in denial that their own family would do such a thing.

As the baby boomer generation begins to reach senior-citizenhood, the elderly population is rapidly growing and the problem is expected to worsen.

As of 2006, 11.5 percent of people in the county were age 65 or over, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That number is predicted to double by the year 2020.

"I'll tell you, the problem is growing. Which is horrible," said Barbara Smith, president of Every Generation, who lives in Alamo. "So our job of course, all of us, is to make elders aware that this is happening."

At the meeting Sotelo related a few tips for elders to keep in mind: Bring mail directly to the post office rather than sticking it in your private mailbox; don't respond to e-mails if you don't know the sender; screen calls; make sure you fully understand documents before signing them; and never give out credit card information.

"It's scary, it really is scary," Smith said. "And it's incumbent upon all of us to do what we can to knock it off now."


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