To the editor:
Financial exploitation of elders continues to be a serious, unaddressed problem in Massachusetts. More than unauthorized use of a credit card or phone scams, financial exploitation can involve a finely tuned collaboration of multiple parties, targeting specific elders and their assets, separating them from their families and their homes, possessions, stocks and bank accounts. Elders, sitting on a lifetime of assets, may be particularly vulnerable to the persuasive and complex sales pitches of assisted living facilities, Realtors, financial advisers, land developers and attorneys.
While family members are the most common financial exploiters, some of the worst cases may involve other elders who target unsuspecting, lonely elders where they congregate, through churches or even the Council on Aging. The elder need not have dementia or physical disabilities to become a victim. Abusers isolate the elder and gain the elder’s trust and reliance. They manipulate the elder to sign legal documents such as powers of attorney, health care proxies or affidavits, which then can lead to conservatorships and guardianships and the total loss of control of every aspect of the elder’s life.
Who does one contact if financial exploitation of an elder is suspected? Right now, not Elder Protective Services. At 2012 Budget Hearings, it was revealed that from October 2010 to March 2012 , more than 3,962 elder abuse calls to Protective Services were screened out, uninvestigated and without notice to the callers.
Despite the explosion of elder financial exploitation opportunities as baby boomers retire, meetings this fall of the legislatively created Special Commission on Elder Protective Services revealed that Massachusetts Elder Affairs funding for training Elder Protective Services investigators was eliminated in 2008-2009. Funding for any training since, if at all, has had to be carved out of the budgets of individual directors of the 27 elder services agencies in Massachusetts. Mandated reporters of elder abuse, including the police, also have not received adequate training to accurately detect financial exploitation in a timely manner. Consequently, these investigators and mandated reporters miss financial exploitation or, worse, target the whistleblowers instead. When assets are quickly depleted, the elder becomes the state’s responsibility.