Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Reported Elder Abuse on the Rise in Santa Cruz County

By GENEVIEVE BOOKWALTER Sentinel staff writer

SANTA CRUZ — Reports of financial elder abuse in Santa Cruz County have spiked this year, after a law took effect Jan. 1 requiring bank tellers to report suspect behavior.

Olivia Rios, at her desk at the county's Emeline Avenue complex, works in the local office of the state Adult Protective Services.Local staff with the state's Adult Protective Services already have restored or prevented $36.5 million in the past year, following a 13 percent rise in financial elder abuse cases. Even more money is expected to be recovered.

But while the increasing number of reports allows social workers to crack down on corrupt caregivers and swindling relatives, it creates more of a burden for the four-person staff that investigates the claims. Those workers dealt with 600 reported cases of elder abuse in 2006, said Sandy Skezas, program manager for the Santa Cruz County branch of California's Adult Protective Services. While numbers have not been tabulated yet for this year, workers can tell the number is going up.

Known abusers
The problem with elder abuse, Skezas said, is it is difficult to track and prosecute. If corrupt caregivers know what they're doing, they can clean out a bank account in two days and take ownership of someone's house in a month, she said.

Often, the victims suffer from dementia and those trusted to take care of them are friends or relatives, she said.

As a result, the senior citizen might not realize that signing over the deed to the house or all the money in a savings account is not a good idea, Skezas said.

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