The White House Conference on Aging took place on July 13 and Gale Reece, founder of the I know expo, was in attendance. The topic of elder justice was discussed on that day and here’s a synopsis of what was said as reported by Next Avenue, public media’s first and only national service for America’s booming 50+ population.
Elder financial abuse is a tragic problem in America. As Richard Cordray, Director of the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said at the White House Conference on Aging: “Older Americans all too often fall prey to financial exploitation.”
In a recent Wells Fargo survey of 1,005 investors, 32 percent of respondents said they know someone who has been the victim of investment scams or financial abuse targeted at the elderly. What you might not know: “Only a small fraction of elder abuse is ever reported,” said Cordray.
Panelist Lynne Person, Long-Term Care Ombudsman at the Office of the D.C. Department of Health Care, said “often, victims are fearful of reporting abuse from a caregiver because the caregiver is the one they depend on for the activities of daily living.”
Another panelist, James Baker, Director of Law Enforcement Operations and Support at the International Association of Chiefs of Police, added that “often they are embarrassed or there’s no one there to help them ask for help.”
Panelist Elizabeth Loewy, a former prosecutor and now General Counsel and Senior VP of Industry Relations at Eversafe.com, an elderfraud prevention service, said: “We have blindfolds on with respect to the tsunami of elder fraud.”
The moderator of this panel, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Aging Kathleen Greenlee, who’s the administration’s de facto point person on elder abuse (“it’s in my DNA”) said: “It’s an outrage against humanity.” President Obama seems outraged, too. He railed against elder abuse in his morning remarks at the conference. It may have been the first time a president has ever mentioned “elder abuse,” Greenlee said.
Older people are attractive targets, Cordray and Greenlee noted, because they have money, homes or both; they may have impaired mental capacity and they’re often socially isolated.
“I am deeply concerned, but I can see progress,” Greenlee said, pointing to the administration’s interdisciplinary approach. Three upcoming government initiatives the White House described today:
- This fall, the National Institutes of Health will convene an elder abuse workshop with researchers, clinicians and others on understanding, preventing and intervening in elder abuse (financial and otherwise).
- The Department of Justice will fund a multi-year pilot project to evaluate the means to avoid and respond to elder mistreatment. The department also plans to train prosecutors around the country how to effectively curb elder abuse and financial exploitation.
- The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, by the end of 2015, will release an advisory to help financial institutions prevent, recognize and report elder financial exploitation.
The panelists agreed on the importance of trying to detect elder financial abuse as early as possible.
Panelist Scott Dueser, Chairman, President and CEO of First Financial Bank, based in Abilene, Texas said: “I have made many calls to family members telling them they had a problem. Getting them convinced there was a problem was a problem.”
If you see a family member becoming a victim, said Dueser, “you’ve got to take a stand and move; you cannot wait, because if you wait, the problem gets worse.”
His bank is particularly aggressive. About 1 ½ years ago, it began educating all bank employees on how to detect elder financial abuse and how to stop it. Then, First Financial started partnering with police departments, Adult Protective Services and the Better Business Bureau for each of its 62 communities.
The bank now also gives out a Fraud Buster Award when staffers take action. “Unfortunately, this award goes out two or three times a week,” said Dueser. “To date, we’ve stopped over one million dollars worth of fraud in our bank.”
Other, bigger banks are sometimes leery of taking such action, fearing concerns of the invasion of privacy of their customers, Loewy said.
Dueser’s response: “When we see problems, families expect us to call. We’ve never had a family scream privacy when we were doing the right thing.”
Dueser reminded the WHCOA audience that not all elder abuse victims are wealthy. “Unfortunately, one customer lost $40,000, which was everything she had and then some, because the fraudsters had the run of her credit cards,” he said. “It happens across all walks of life.”