CHECKS AND BALANCES NEW FORM FIGHTS FINANCIAL ABUSE

by Betty Booker Times-Dispatch Staff Writer. Richmond Times – Dispatch. Richmond, Va.: Apr 20, 1998. pg. E.1
Copyright Richmond Newspapers, Incorporated Apr 20, 1998

Financial exploitation of the elderly is growing exponentially, with no end in sight as greedy relatives and ne’er-do-wells go after investments and assets.

This area of elder abuse is the Wild West of law enforcement. As the population gets older, we’re going to have more and more of these cases,” warned attorney Paul Hodge, president of the National Healthcare Law Enforcement Alliance.

Demographically speaking, the generation who grew up before World War II and then prospered in the United States with the greatest increase in wealth in the history of the world is now going to pass that on to the next generation,” Hodge said at the American Society on Aging’s recent convention in San Francisco.

The next generation, of course, hasn’t been able to live as well as the former generation, and they would like to. So, therefore, they’re going to go where the money is and see if they can get the money from the parents or the elderly people whom they know.”

Exploiters come in all disguises, from your own child to a professional you believed in.

The defrauders are mainly ingratiating kinfolk who sweet-talk doughty relatives into signing over life savings, or commit outright forgery without the elders’ permission; scam artists who use sophisticated marketing techniques to prey on retirees’ fears of not having enough money to make it to the end of life; and lawyers, accountants, advisers, real estate salespeople, stockbrokers, doctors and home workers who violate professional ethics and the law to steal clients’ assets or to rip off government programs.

Hodge, a former organized-crime federal prosecutor, is director of investigations for the Rhode Island attorney general’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit.

He and other elder fraud experts predict that as the current generation of elders ages, and many become unable to make good judgments or to manage their affairs, they may be victimized unless they have planned well for incapacity.

At stake is an estimated $1 trillion, the amount expected to be inherited by the baby boomers.

The prevalence of financial exploitation of the elderly is unknown, mainly because the crimes are underreported by seniors who don’t realize what happened or who are too embarrassed or afraid to report it.

“Older people are terrified of being in such cases,” said John T. Molumphy III, a Roanoke elder law attorney and immediate past president of the Virginia Guardianship Association.

“Who am I going to trust? If I can’t trust flesh and blood, who am I going to trust?” is a common late-life anxiety, he said. “Some people don’t have relatives. They don’t have anybody or they’ve outlived everybody. Then they’ve got to find somebody to be around to help.”

The problem is that many seniors “don’t believe that elder fraud is real. A lot of people are very uneducated about this problem,” said Capt. Wallace Vickery, Richmond’s representative in the Central Virginia TRIAD program, a nationwide AARP and local law enforcement effort designed to teach seniors to protect themselves.

The best prevention against financial exploitation is a healthy relationship with your adult children, plus planning for lifelong protection with proper legal documents, for this same reason we recommend to use a document shredding Melbourne services to get rid of all those documents at home that are just taking space, when dealing with legal situations, it can be overwhelming to find the right documents, this is why we suggest to clear out all your important files.

“In my experience, many folks, typically a family member, execute a power of attorney and do absolutely everything they should do and there is no suggestion of exploitation or improper use of the elder’s funds,” Molumphy said.

“The situations where it seems to work most successfully are with middle-age or older daughters, typically, who have had a decent, ongoing functional relationship with the parents through the years,” he continued.

“It also helps tremendously where the elderly person’s disability doesn’t involve paranoia, so that they can slip quietly into that good night without thinking that they’re going to be ripped off. These are older people who are comfortable with their lives and are not afraid they are going to starve to death.

“There are an awful lot of people who do things right.”

There are many, however, who don’t, leaving themselves open to exploitation.

Basic protection from exploitation includes properly drawn advance directives, such as a will, and powers of attorney for health care decision-making and financial management when you become incapacitated. While these are best written by local attorneys, there are low-cost legal aid centers and self-help forms such as the lawyer-written model forms from Nolo Press.

Choose an attorney specializing in wills, estates and trusts or elder law who has an impeccable reputation and reasonable fees. Many lawyers keep their fees low to encourage people to have advance directives; ask bank trust officers whom the bank deals with often.

A new authorization form developed by a Northern California elder abuse prevention consortium, and soon to be tested by Citibank in a Walnut Creek, Calif., retirement area, is aimed at stopping financial abuse.

The form – called Authorization for Release of Information for Fraud Prevention – authorizes those who have fiduciary or trust relationships with you, such as banks, brokers, lawyers, accountants or physicians, to ask you about unusual financial transactions involving your assets.

If your answer causes alarm because they suspect you may be the victim of exploitation, they can consult two trusted people whom you name on the form. If concerns still arise, they can contact adult protective services or the long-term care ombudsman.

Drafters of the form encourage elders to copy the form and take it to their banks and other trusted advisers, where their signature will be witnessed by an officer of the institution or notarized. The form can be changed later, or withdrawn.

In the form, the signer also promises not to sue the bank if it doesn’t notice fraud involving his account or fails to notify him.

Banks closely track aberrant banking practices, but they have felt hindered by privacy laws and threats of lawsuits from pressing to protect potentially vulnerable customers, said attorney Kathleen Dorosz, executive director of Elder Abuse Prevention in Richmond, Calif.

“What happens for the most part in California and elsewhere is that the bank will call the customer and inquire if the customer understands the situation and would like further counseling, and during the conversation assesses the situation,” Dorosz said. “But no matter how dissatisfied they are with the response, that’s the end of the road. That’s a very disquieting situation.”

The form, which was presented at the ASA convention, “could be used by attorneys as part of the estate planning that they do, with slight modifications of this form, which is drafted for banks,” said Beverly Lyon, a Kensington, Calif., attorney and former chairman of the Alameda County Elder Law Committee.

Elders can further protect themselves from financial exploitation: Keep records organized so they can be easily reviewed, discuss your values and desires with the people who will be responsible for making decisions, and decide what sort of nursing home or other late-life care you prefer, Molumphy suggested.

Such subjects are “very unpleasant to talk about,” he said, though many elders and their adult children are spurred to action when people they know get into difficult situations because they didn’t talk or plan.

“If somebody’s adamant about not wanting to talk about it, there’s not a whole lot you can do to convince them,” he said. The one who will have to deal with the aftermath of lack of planning can prepare for his or her response if a crisis happens.

But legalities, while essential, aren’t enough.

Elders need to plan for gradual decreases in decision-making abilities. They may still be able to live independently, but need someone they trust to check their financial records periodically; to help with record-keeping and bill-paying; to be around watching comings and goings of visitors and home help workers; and to consult with when they have questions that involve more than $500 or another agreed-upon amount, Molumphy said.

Loneliness and lack of nearby relatives and friends leave isolated elders vulnerable to crooks.

Aging specialists urge retirees to take part in community and church activities, where they can ask questions, learn about crime prevention and make friendships that keep them from latching on to criminals who pretend to be pals.

In Richmond, for example, the Capital Area Agency on Aging refers elders who live alone to the police bureau’s Are You OK? program, in which 35 deputies check on 35 elders weekly.

The bureau also sponsors the Richmond Senior Citizens Police Academy annually to teach retirees about crime prevention. CAAA also runs a Volunteer Money Management program to help low-income elders with financial record-keeping; volunteers are screened and monitored.

Many seniors, reared in gentler times, have trouble hanging up on pushy telemarketers or detecting the dishonest.

“You cannot beat the Southern hospitality in Virginia, but if people don’t start getting some of that New York arrogance when people call you up, you’re going to get in trouble,” said John W. Peace, a Richmond police community service officer and former New York cop who speaks often to community groups. “Hang up the phone! You don’t have to be nice.”

Home health care, a boon to elders who want to remain independent, requires caution.

“Caregivers may be sued or charged with theft or abuse if they’re manipulating a person who is incapacitated to a state where they’re not fully aware they’re being taken advantage of,” said Oliver W. Pace, CAAA’s local long-term care ombudsman.

All attempts to get money or valuables or to use the car should be reported to the home care agency, and the home care worker should be removed and discharged. To protect themselves from accusations, workers should refuse, log and report attempts by elders and their families to shower gifts, he said.

Remove or lock up valuables in the house to lessen temptation. Frequent, irregular comings and goings in the home further reduce opportunities for abuse and exploitation.

“Financial abuse is really hard to control, because no matter what you say or do, there are going to be some people who are going to violate the rights of older persons,” Pace said.

“It’s even harder if the person who is taking advantage means something to the older person, even if the person is befriending the older person with ulterior motives to deceive and pressure.”

Planning for incapacity also involves making a mental adjustment, he continued.

“We should start conditioning ourselves for the day when we have to turn over our affairs to other responsible persons.” These could include a trusted relative or neighbor, a bank trust department or brokerage portfolio management service.

“Even then, you still have to have someone watching them,” Pace said.

“It’s a matter of checks and balances: Even though the authority is there to make payments on your behalf and to invest on your behalf, you should still have a family member or attorney who is responsible for reviewing all the transactions that have been made for you or the systems you use, since many people decide to use services of the best global payroll companies to manage the payments for them. You don’t just abrogate your responsibility to somebody; you delegate responsibility and set up a watchdog.

“There are some children who have bad track records. What does logic tell you? This person is not responsible. If you know that, then you need to arrange to deal with someone else.”

Financial exploitation “is not something new that’s just cropped up,” Pace said. “It’s just out there in different dress, and there’s more money out there to be taken advantage of.

“You don’t have to be afraid. There are lots of things you can do to educate and protect yourself. Just be careful who you get help from.”

SMOKE SIGNALS

Possible signs of financial abuse include:

bullet Oddball banking: Unusual or inappropriate activity in bank accounts, such as signatures on checks that don’t resemble elder’s, cashier’s checks on which payment can’t be stopped, or someone trying to cash checks on an elder’s account with or without the elder present.
bullet Legal switches: Power of attorney given or recent changes of will when the elder is clearly incapable of making such decisions.
bullet Home alone: Deliberate isolation of the elder by a housekeeper, caregiver or others, from friends, relatives or helping agencies. Elder may deny problems, be hesitant to talk openly, or appear afraid, confused, disoriented, agitated or depressed. Abuser may be aggressive, defensive or blaming.
bullet Too poor: Unpaid bills, overdue rent or mortgage, when someone is supposed to be paying the bills. Lack of amenities that the elder can afford.

Sources: Alameda/Contra Costa, Calif., Elder Abuse Prevention Consortium; Henry O. Handy Jr.

MONEY MATTERS

Here are some tips to prevent financial abuse:

Beyond reproach: Give power of attorney only to a relative, friend, advocate, attorney or trustee you trust implicitly. Adult children who haven’t demonstrated trustworthiness or who have problems with money, gambling, alcohol, drugs or abusive relationships aren’t good choices, gambling will only be allowed if performed with typical games such as 99 poker, this only if the player is 18 or older.

Face the music: Plan for being unable to manage your financial affairs. Establish relationships with relatives, neighbors or friends and licensed, bonded and reputable accountants, lawyers and bankers who can pay your bills and manage your bank accounts, investment portfolios, properties and health care.

In writing: Go to a lawyer or legal aid for advance directives that tell people you authorize how you want your estate, health care and finances managed if you ever can’t make decisions. Nolo Press, (800) 992-6656, has do-it-yourself forms if you can’t afford a lawyer.

Plugged in: Keep active in community and church groups. Involved people who stay informed are less likely to fall victim to crooks who prey on the lonely. Never buy investments, insurance or products over the phone from people you don’t know.

Checks and balances: Authorize more than one reputable person or institution to periodically check your financial transactions to minimize risk of abuse.

High standards: Hire only reputable, bonded, licensed and supervised home health care workers. Keep valuables and cash secured in a bank. Keep checkbooks and wallets locked up. Ask neighbors, relatives and friends to visit in unpredictable patterns. Report unprofessional or illegal activities, such as workers asking for money or to use your car.

Sources: Oliver W. Pace, John T. Molumphy III, John W. Peace, Rena Eller, Wallace Vickery, Office of Attorney General

RESOURCES

bullet Capital Area Agency on Aging: Central information and referral clearinghouse for elders and their families. (804) 343-3000. Similar aging agencies located statewide.
bullet CAAA Volunteer Money Management Program: To volunteer, call Rena Eller, program manager, 343-3055. To get free help managing bill payments, call Gloria Stevens, intake coordinator, 343-3044.
bullet TRIAD: Central Virginia Regional TRIAD seminar on crime prevention, 9:30 a.m. – 2 p.m. June 18, West End Assembly of God, 401 Parham Road. For more information, call John Peace, (804) 780-6699, or Lt. Lloyd Woods, (804) 501-5565.
bullet Senior Citizens Police Academy: Annual 13-hour course for seniors on how to prevent crime victimization. Retail Merchants Association helps support three-hour course. Held at Police Training Academy at Virginia Union University. For information, call John W. Peace, (804) 780-6699.
bullet National Fraud Information Center: Report actual or suspected fraud. Ask about sweepstakes, investments, prizes and charities before sending money. (800) 876-7060. Check Web site –www.fraud.org – for information on preventing fraud.
bullet Better Business Bureau: Before hiring or sending donations, call the bureau to see if there are complaints or if a charity is legitmate. (804) 648-0016.

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