Elder Abuse

BLOG: Learn how to Identify Elder Abuse

By Thomas Williams, Senior Vice President

CRCM, CCBIA, ACT Specialist

Elder abuse is a growing problem, not only in Georgia but nationwide. According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, as of 2018 there were 52.4 million adults ages 65 and older in the United States. Studies show that at least one in 10 of these adults experienced some form of abuse in the prior year. Abuse can be psychological or emotional, physical, neglectful, sexual or financial. 

Georgia has special laws to protect residents 65 years of age and older, disabled adults 18 years of age and older who are mentally or physically incapacitated or have Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, and residents of long-term care facilities. Due to their age and/or disability, this population is at increased risk for abuse, neglect, and exploitation. In the state of Georgia, it is a felony to exploit an elder person “knowingly and willfully” or deprive him or her of necessary services. Punishment for these crimes could include a prison sentence of up to 20 years, a fine up to $50,000, or both.

Unfortunately, abuse of older and disabled adults is one of the most undetected and underreported problems in the United States. Abuse of an elder person can occur anywhere, including the person’s own home or in a community living arrangement such as an assisted living home.  

Financial Exploitation

Financial exploitation is defined as improperly or illegally using a person's resources for the benefit of another person. Examples include using a Power of Attorney to gain access to an adult’s assets for personal gain or using undue influence, false representation and other means to gain access to an adult’s monthly government checks.

Perpetrators of financial exploitation are often clever and will stop at nothing to take advantage of their victims. Financial abuse can start as innocently as a grandchild asking a grandparent for a sum of money and escalate to the grandchild repeatedly exploiting that grandparent for money to support a dependency on something they cannot afford.

Financial exploitation is often initiated by complete strangers – fraudsters who specifically target the elderly to cheat them out of their assets. There are four primary reasons seniors are targeted by scammers:

• There is a perception that they have regular income (typically provided through Social Security benefits or 401k disbursements) and a lifetime of assets.
• Senior adults are more trusting or willing to listen.
• The senior population is grateful for attention and enjoys personal interaction with others.
• The elderly population is generally eager to help when they can.

Unfortunately, it’s these very qualities that make seniors vulnerable to exploitation tactics. The abuse can present itself in a variety of ways:

Giveaways: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  Giveaway scams occur when a person receives a letter, email or call that they are a winner. These forms of scams typically require an immediate response and request an up-front payment to release the winnings or pay for the taxes.

Imposter Scams: The senior receives a call that a family member is in serious trouble and money is required immediately in order to help them. The person on the phone asks that the issue remain a secret in order to drive emotions.

Charity Scams: The scammers use pressure tactics in order to encourage an elderly al to make an donation to some type of humanitarian cause.  

Online Romance Scams: Scammers often create fake online profiles on dating websites using photos of other people. They are charming and profess their love quickly even before an in-person meeting. They often claim to be living, traveling or working abroad to explain why they are unable to meet in person. After trust is established, there is an urgent request for money.

Contractor Scams: Home repair scammers often target older homeowners. They may go door-to-door to solicit business and then overcharge consumers, do a shoddy job, or take the money without starting or completing the repair. 

Watch for Red Flags

To avoid becoming a victim of the scams listed above or any other type of scam, be vigilant in recognizing the following red flags:

• Urgent requests for payments in order to receive a prize
• Pressure to act immediately
• Use of scare tactics, e.g. a loved one is in danger, a computer has been hacked or threatening arrest if no immediate action
• Insistence for payments via gift cards, wire transfer or cryptocurrency
• Get-rich-quick and other promises that sound too good to be true
• Promises to recover lost money in other scams, for a fee
• A quick expression of love that only permeates online or over the phone, followed by requests for money in order to meet in person or help a loved one

During 2021, United Bank identified 38 cases of elder exploitation involving $519,000 of potential fraudulent activity. These cases consisted of caretaker or nursing home fraud, mortgage fraud, the exploitation of the elder by friends and family, and sweetheart scams.

United Bank takes pride in proactively identifying potential elder abuse cases and protecting our senior customers. We train all employees on an annual basis to detect the red flags of elder abuse as they serve their customers. In addition, multiple Bank employees have received the At-Risk Adult Crime Tactics (ACT) Certification offered through the Georgia Department of Human Services Forensic Special Initiatives Unit.  This training provides staff with the tools necessary to help identify and respond to abuse, neglect, and exploitation of at-risk adults. UB

To learn more about elder financial abuse and fraud, visit https://consumer.georgia.gov/consumer-education/consumer-guides/georgia-consumer-protection-guide-older-adults