Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Bill Aims to Curb Elder Exploitation

Bangor Daily News (Maine) Revised 5-21-07

Elderly victims of financial abuse are almost always harmed by family members and caregivers, not by predatory telemarketers and strangers, an official from the state Department of Health and Human Services said Friday.

About 90 percent of people who demand or steal money from an elderly person are family members, caregivers and "trusted loved ones," said Ricker Hamilton, protective program administrator for DHHS' Bureau of Elder and Adult Services. The remaining 10 percent are telephone and mail scams, Hamilton said.

"Elderly victims of financial exploitation are dying at three times the rate of nonvictims. That's what we see here. It's the last part of family violence that we don't talk about," Hamilton said.

"Increasingly, Maine seniors are finding themselves the target of financial exploitation because they have liquid assets and good credit," Rowe said.

Bank tellers and other "frontline" employees would be trained to notice the "red flags of financial exploitation," Rowe said.

For the most part, financial abuse of the elderly goes unreported, Hamilton said. Victims are often embarrassed or afraid their loved one will be arrested, he said.

"Oftentimes the victims are coming to us when the money's all gone," Hamilton said. "This bill would stop the abuse before it's too late."

Hamilton was unable to say what percentage of Maine's 260,000 people over the age of 60 experience some form of financial abuse. He did say that although seniors account for only about 14 percent of Maine's population, they represent more than one-third of the victims of financial fraud. And 40 percent of all reported elder abuse cases involve financial exploitation, he said.

"The number of people 60-plus is doubling across the country. That means the victims are doubling as well," Hamilton said.

Presently, DHHS relies on victims and members of their community to report signs of financial abuse. Elderly victims of financial exploitation lose an average of $39,000, Hamilton said.

"Unfortunately, a lot of the perpetrators are family members or caregivers that are taking advantage of the persons they have pledged to assist," Hamilton said.

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