Curb Financial Abuse and Exploitation Through Education on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day

Two months after a bill was passed by the Oregon State Legislature to protect Oregon’s most vulnerable senior citizens, communities around the world and throughout Oregon will be working to raise awareness of elder abuse, neglect and exploitation on June 15 as part of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.

In 2010, 41 percent of Oregon’s founded abuse cases against elderly and vulnerable adults involved financial exploitation. The specifics vary from cases to case, ranging from a trusted family member cashing a check with a forged signature to a financial advisor pushing an investment scam. It could even be as simple as a caregiver in a nursing facility stealing an ATM card from a resident or stealing their prescription narcotics to sell on the street.

“It’s the number one issue of abuse affecting our older population in Oregon and across the country,” said Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS) Director Erinn Kelley-Siel of elder abuse. “We must work together to better protect our elderly and vulnerable citizens from financial exploitation and abuse, an unthinkable crime that is becoming increasingly common.”

Oregon House Bill 4084 was signed into law on April 11 with Northwest Credit Union Association (NWCUA) support. The bill brought elder abuse laws in line with the state’s child abuse laws and gave law enforcement better tools to investigate and prosecute financial and physical abuse of elders. Among many things, it requires that financial institutions, upon receipt of certification, disclose and provide copies of financial records to law enforcement if a person is the alleged victim in an abuse investigation.

“Each year in Oregon over 600 Oregon seniors are known to be financially exploited—and the number is expected to grow dramatically if efforts aren’t made to educate the public,” said Fred Steele, community adult protective services manager for DHS.

“Education is the answer to curbing the problem of elder abuse,” he added. “Everyone needs to know what elder abuse is, the signs and what to look out for, as well as how to report it. The more we talk about it, the more real it becomes and then the more committed as a society we are going to be to doing something about it.”

Indicators that may be warning signs of financial exploitation include:

  • Unusual or inappropriate activity surrounding investment properties or in bank accounts, including the use of ATM cards, to make large or repeated withdrawals;
  • Signatures on checks that do not resemble the person’s signature, or signatures when the person cannot write;
  • Power of attorney given, or recent changes in or creation of a will or trust, when the person is considered incapable of making such decisions;
  • Unpaid bills, overdue rent, utility shut-off notices;
  • Lack of spending on the care of the person, including personal grooming items;
  • Missing personal belongings, such as art, silverware or jewelry;
  • Recent sale of assets and properties.

Credit unions are often in a unique position to spot financial abuse among elderly members, according to Frank King, an adult protective service investigator with DHS. King and his colleague, Michelle Smith, were keynote presenters at the spring meeting of the Central Oregon Chapter of Credit Unions. They urged credit union employees to report any other suspected abuse or neglect they may notice when elder members visit the branch.

“If you see a change in your older members, give us a call and we can check on their welfare,” Smith said, adding that Oregon law allows the name of the caller to be kept confidential. The DHS team said to watch for elderly members with worsening hygiene habits, unusual difficulty driving or parking, or decreased alertness.

DHS is working with its partners around the state to increase awareness of vulnerable and elder abuse and signs to look for. More information can be found on the state’s elder abuse web page. If you believe an older adult or an adult with physical disability is being subjected to financial exploitation, contact your local DHS or AAA office.


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