Thursday, May 24, 2007

Elder Financial Abuse -Devastating !

When 57-year-old Lynda Gardner offered to help a 77-year-old woman with her errands and shopping, she wasn't just trying to be nice. Gardner was not interested in the elderly woman's well-being, but her retirement account. Within three months Gardner siphoned the woman's life savings, sold her car and cashed in the life insurance policies.

"It was devastating," said John DeMattia, a Connecticut prosecutor who specializes in elder abuse, handled the criminal case against Gardner. "Unfortunately, we couldn't catch her fast enough."

Retirees work their whole life to build a nest egg, but instead of enjoying their golden years, many fall prey to financial exploitation by family members interested in early inheritance or strangers that seek out widows and older people they can take advantage of.

Each year between 500,000 and five million older citizens in the nation are neglected, abused or exploited financially. In the next 30 years 76 million of the nation's population will approach retirement age and the number of victims will also increase. Some don't even make it to retirement before someone skims their savings, DeMattia said.

"Sixty is the magic number. We expect the amount of victims will only increase in the near future as will the need for services," he said.

Six years ago DeMattia and an investigator were appointed to prosecute cases involving crimes against the elderly including financial exploitation and physical abuse and neglect. Since then the Elder Services Unit of the Connecticut Chief State Attorney's Office has grown to include 13 more lawyers, investigators, and specialists.

Elder abuse can be intentional or negligent physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, exploitation, neglect or abandonment. It's a crime that does not discriminate among race or gender and a victim isn't always considered wealthy, but often loses what possessions they have accumulated over the years including their homes, possessions and savings.

The older person who is isolated from family and friends is an easy target..

Senator Hatch said "It is time for Congress to make the Elder Justice Act the first comprehensive federal law to address elder abuse and ensure that those in the twilight of life are protected from abuse that threatens their safety,independence, and productivity,"

"The penalty for physical abuse has been set but it has taken some time for the system to impose punishment for financial exploitation," DeMattia said. "Before it was thought of by police and attorneys as a civil matter for the probate courts, or if the family member stole it and put it back, it was okay. But the courts are taking a different view because of the devastating effects financial exploitation has on a victim. If a 78-year-old loses everything what are they going to do? Go back to work? I know victims who were not only broke but become physically sick from this. The courts have recognized this and the penalties have gone up as a punishment but also as a deterrent to let those out there know this is a horrible crime."Tracy Kennedy can be reached by e-mail at

Abridged >>

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