Elder financial abuse, fiscal exploitation impact senior population
Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz has declared June as "Elder Abuse Awareness Month" in Erie County. He joined with various community partners to draw attention to a serious social issue that includes an increase in the number of cases involving financial abuse of local senior citizens.
In making the announcement, Poloncarz was joined at the Town of Cheektowaga Senior Center by Erie County Commissioner of Senior Services Randy Hoak, CEO of Legal Services for the Elderly, Disabled or Disadvantaged of WNY Karen Nicolson, and Elder Abuse Case Manager for Crisis Services Chandra Boyer.
"Elder abuse if a very serious issue that, unfortunately, is impacting vulnerable citizens within our community," Poloncarz said. "Financial elder abuse is the fastest growing form of elder abuse and is often the most devastating for the victims. It is despicable and truly hard to comprehend how anyone can target individuals who are an important part of our community and who have been there for us throughout their lives."
Elder financial abuse or exploitation is the improper use of an elder's funds, property or resources. Financial exploitation occurs when an adult's income or assets are used without their knowledge or consent. This includes fraud, coerced property transfers and denial of access to assets. Recent research has found that 42 out of every 1,000 senior citizens in New York fall victim to this type of abuse, with only one in 44 cases actually being reported. Recent estimates have Western New York's large elderly population being the victims of well over $10 million in annual theft.
"Elder abuse is a growing concern, and financial abuse of older adults is particularly troubling, especially because it is believed a large majority of such abuse goes unreported," Hoak said. "We need to serve as advocates for these older adults. The first step is defining the problem. Raising awareness of the financial abuse of older adults and convening community stakeholders as we advocate for protection of this potentially vulnerable population is a crucial element of our community's strategy to address this growing problem."
Seniors who are at risk include those who are isolated, have experienced recent losses, are declining in physical and mental capacity, have increased dependency on caregivers and have family members with financial or substance abuse problems. Warning signs include a change in the elder's home and demeanor, their financial transactions and their family, friends and caregivers.
Mounting collection notices, unpaid bills, unusual bank activity, missing funds, implausible explanations on how money is spent, changes in property titles, wills or other documents and suspicious signatures on checks or other documents are among the warning signs.
"The vision of the Council on Elder Abuse is a community where all elders are safe, supported and valued," said Kathy Kanaley, president of Erie County's Council on Elder Abuse. "Our goals are ensuring safety and justice, while at the same time promoting respect and self-determination. With the increased awareness of elder abuse issues and the dedication and collaboration of the member agencies, we are making strides to make our vision a reality here in Erie County."
"Legal Services for the Elderly, Disabled or Disadvantaged of Western New York is proud to partner with Erie County to fight elder abuse," Nicolson said. "We are committed to preventing exploitation of the elderly and working together to make this community a safe place for the older adults in our county."
"In Erie County, we are committed to collaborating with our partners to ensure our elders are safe and receive the assistance and services they are entitled to," said Robyn Wiktorski-Reynolds, advocate program coordinator of Crisis Services. "Addressing financial abuse is a multidisciplinary issue and cannot be resolved by one single entity."
State law requires Adult Protective Services to accept and investigate all reports of financial exploitation, with a caseworker scheduling a home visit within 24 hours to assess safety and service needs. A comprehensive assessment is then completed to determine that the client's basic needs for food, clothing and shelter, and their basic financial and medical needs are being met. Adult Protective Services then has 60 days to conduct its assessment and, during this time, can make referrals for services to clients to address any safety and risk factors. If ongoing protective issues exist, the case can be opened for protective services until the client is linked with the appropriate services.
Proposed changes to New York's criminal procedure law to increase levels of punishment and improve how those who commit elder financial abuse are prosecuted are currently under review, with community partners pledging support of the proposed changes.
Where to go for help:
•If an elder is in need of any type of services, call the Erie County Department of Senior Services at 716-858-8526 or visit http://www2.erie.gov/seniorservices/.
•If you suspect a senior citizen is in need of financial management assistance, call Adult Protective Services at 716-858-6877.
•If you suspect a senior is a victim of a financial crime, contact your local law enforcement agency.