Contact: Jenefer Duane, Founder & CEO
Elder Financial Protection Network
SAN FRANCISCO — California’s 3.8 million seniors — the largest senior population in the country — are subjected to increasing instances of financial abuse since the onset of the country’s economic crisis, said speakers at the Elder Financial Protection Network’s fifth annual Call to Action on March 26.
“With this economic crisis, we are seeing more cases of equity stripping (the stealth of an elder’s resources). We are going to find even more financial abuses coming to light,” said Judge Joyce Cram who presides over the Elder Court of the Superior Court of Contra Costa County.
According to Mary Counihan, San Francisco Aging and Adult Services program manager, “The numbers of recorded cases in San Francisco increased 55% between 2005 and 2008,” Counihan reported. Meanwhile, California’s reported cases have grown by 18%.
Nationally over $2.6 billion are lost annually to financial crimes against the aged, reported Robert B. Blancato, national coordinator for the Elder Justice Coalition.
However, several bills in Congress and at the state level have been introduced to protect the elderly population against predators. Meanwhile, new methods at the local level are being shaped to insulate the aged from exploitation.
Generally predators are people the elderly person knows and loves so the victim is usually reluctant to bring charges, several experts observed. In Cram’s recently established Elder Court, she has seen cases of a son obtaining title to his mother’s house and losing that asset through debt. In another situation, a daughter was her mother’s conservator. Her addiction to lotteries dismantled the mother’s estate.
The methods for defrauding this vulnerable population have become more diverse and more widespread, the speakers remarked, even beyond the more common intra-family exploitation.
“The sweetheart caregiver” as described by Virginia M.George, assistant professor at the John F. Kennedy University School of Law, refers to a professional caregiver’s insinuation into the heart and assets of a lonely elderly man in rehab and under medication. After establishing a romantic relationship with her client, the caregiver frequently introduces her friends to him who prey upon the elderly man as well.
Legitimate financial instruments such as reverse mortgages and annuities have been used as instruments of defrauding the elderly. Speakers recounted several tales of aged people being induced persuaded to buy into a deferred annuity of a much longer term than the policyholders expected lifespan.
George cited an instance in which a marketer of annuities warned a family they would lose their house to satisfy Medi-Cal requirements unless they bought his product.
Corrupt licensed and unlicensed contractors are known to force their services, whether needed or not, on aged homeowners and charge them outrageous prices.
However, bills in Congress and in Sacramento promise to alleviate some of these offenses. The most anticipated is the Elder Justice Act, HR448, which passed the House in February. It would protect seniors from abuse by establishing special prosecution and research programs. Also it would train prosecutors and other law-enforcement about elder abuse and its prevention.
Mark Herbert, Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s field representative with special responsibility for the elderly, said the bill was about to be referred to the Senate. Further, Herbert was optimistic about its passage. In its previous form, the bill was introduced in 2008 by Rahm Emanuel, currently President Obama’s Chief of Staff and it was cosponsored by then Senators Obama and Joe Biden.
Since the president’s stimulus package will bring about $10 million to California, Herbert was hopeful that funding opportunities for the elderly would be available under the victims of crimes provisions.
Still, it will be a while before recovery dollars from Washington, DC will help at the local level. Counihan of San Francisco Aging and Adult Services reported that the agency’s budget has been cut by 10%.
Meanwhile, multidisciplinary approaches are emerging at the local level to protect seniors from predators.
George at JFK University supervises the Elder Law Clinic which provides free legal assistance to those over age 60 who have been financially exploited.
San Francisco’s Assistant District Attorney Alan Kennedy explained the goal of the recently created Elder Abuse Forensic Center which coordinates the expertise of many disciplines to investigate physical and financial issues.
Solano County Detective Steve Hosking urged the creation of a statewide uniform database of elder abuse just as one exists for abuses against children.
The March 26 Call to Action event honored institutions and individuals that have championed the protection of aged citizens against financial explication.
Star One Credit Union received the EFPN’s Visionary Leadership Award for its initiative in creating and implementing new techniques to protect the elderly.
The EFPN awarded its lifetime achievement Sentinel Award to Steven Reiss Esq. for his work in advocating for positive change in public policy concerning the protection of the elderly from financial abuse.
Tristan D. Svare Esq. of the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office was presented the Professional Leadership Award for his work in investigating, and litigating elder financial abuse cases.
The EFPN conferred its Donald N. Phelps Community Service Award to Solano FAST, an innovative community model for protecting the elderly against financial exploitation.
The Elder Financial Protection Network was formed to address the growing problem of financial abuse of elders and dependent adults and to marshal interdisciplinary forces for their protection.
By Francine Brevetti