Financial exploitation is the number one concern when it comes to elder abuse
In 2017, Nebraska’s Adult Protective Services investigated 2,650 allegations of abuse, neglect and exploitation of vulnerable adults. More than 230 of that total were age 60 or older. Elder abuse is a serious concern in the Panhandle and financial exploitation is the No. 1 concern.
RECOGNIZING SCAMS AND POTENTIAL FOR ELDERLY FINANCIAL ABUSE
One of the key areas of fraud occurs in the most vulnerable populations. According to statistical data collected by Ryan Sothan, outreach coordinator with the Nebraska Office of the Attorney General, seniors make up 35 percent of complaints.
“This suggests it is solely on the basis of age alone and they are being targeted by scammers,” Sothan said.
The most recent studies are from 2011, which Sothan said was significant because much of the abuse goes under the radar. Elder abuse data can lag 20 years behind, so investigators need to “drill down” through the data to get a look at what is really happening. By doing that, researchers have proven conclusively that abuse is over 20 times greater than the reported rate.
That is why the Nebraska Attorney General’s office encourages reporting of financial abuse. Individuals can report to Adult Protective Services, the attorney general’s office and area agencies.
“We want to encourage you to report, report, report,” he said. “If you don’t get results, report again.”
Sothan said from a law enforcement perspective, the standard of evidence is lower, so, instead of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, people can report through apps.
“It’s a preponderance of evidence and they can connect the senior to the services they need on a quicker basis,” he said.
Scams are also easier when panic sets in. If someone calls and says they are your grandchild, confirm it. Ask their name, their middle name or information only that grandchild would know.
Education about signs to recognize has been helpful in raising awareness to elder abuse. Cheryl Brunz, executive director for the Aging Office of Western Nebraska, said society is attuned to child abuse after decades of education, but we still have farther to go in recognizing signs of abuse in the elderly.
“The elderly are starting to know what we are teaching them,” Cheryl Brunz, executive director of the Aging Office of Western Nebraska, said. “The word is getting out and we all need to be more aware. Many people still don’t look and we need to be vigilant.”
In one recent case, when an elderly man became aware of suspicious activity on his account, he made sure to report it. In September 2017, Stacia Keener, of Gering, was sentenced on two counts of theft by deception, a Class IIA felony, involving the theft of funds from families of music students whom the woman taught at her business, Stacia’s Studio.
Keener’s 84-year-old grandfather reported in January 2017 that he had discovered his granddaughter had forged two checks on his checking account. He provided documentation showing he had lost more than $250,000 over a four-year period as the woman lied about needing to borrow funds to get monies from a retirement fund, pay the Internal Revenue Service and hire a lawyer. The woman even provided documents she claimed were from her lawyer as part of the scam. The man also learned that he was a primary borrower on a loan he thought he had acted as a co-signer with Keener on.
It is important to be aware, whether it is someone at the senior center noticing something is not right, a bank teller noticing a change with their customer or a grandfather realizing something isn’t quite right in his account.
“Even the cashier at Walmart who sees the little old lady buying an occasional green dot (prepaid credit) card and now purchases several each week or the Western Union cashier who sees the little old man send $2,000 to pay for the taxes on the Cadillac he just ‘won’ can see something is wrong,” Carol Sinner, CHOICES supervisor at the Aging Office of Western Nebraska, said.
HOW BANKS CAN HELP
Banks are required to have a program in place for identity theft protection. First State Bank has had their program in place since before federal regulations were passed. They monitor for suspicious activity on accounts and debit cards.
“Most generally, it’s the customer themselves that report,” said Rick Tuggle, executive vice president and chief operating officer at First State Bank. “With retired individuals, in general, it’s suspicious mailings and the offer that sounds too good to be true.”
Banks also have systems set up to track elder abuse. There have been cases at First State Bank where the abuser was a family member or someone new that was previously unknown to the individual.
“We are very cautious and we have to make sure we are protecting our customer,” Tuggle said. “If we feel it warrants it, we will contact APS.”
First State Bank uses CyberScout, which is free for any of their customers, to place fraud alerts, monitor credit report activity or resolve identity theft.
Tuggle said the best advice for elders is to talk to someone they trust.
“If you don’t have that person in your family or family lives elsewhere, in some cases you are alone, talk to your banker,” Tuggle said. “No matter where you bank, they’ve seen it all, heard it all and are suspicious by nature.”
Tuggle said many times, transactions are repetitious. People pay for groceries, utility bills, etc., and then suddenly the little lady who comes in regularly suddenly has a relative on the scene who needs $1,000.
“I will personally get on the phone right away and ask the customer if this person is OK and do I need to be concerned, do I need to contact law enforcement for you?” Tuggle said.
Tuggle said the first thing he and other bank employees do is look for a trusted family member and make them aware of the situation.
“Sometimes, that’s not available and that’s when we call the hotline or law enforcement for a welfare check,” Tuggle said. “It’s better to be mistaken than to have a case of elder abuse or fraud.”
Tuggle has even been in a situation where he has gotten law enforcement involved. He has asked when there is a time to speak freely when a relative is not around.
“It was frustrating for us, but it turned out OK,” Tuggle said. “Law enforcement was able to determine it was elder abuse.”
Monitoring at your bank can be set up at any time. Tuggle said it’s good to ask financial questions. If the bankers can’t help you, they will direct you to someone who can. He recommends banking with community bankers you know, if you can.
“Really, you can call any bank on the phone and they will have heard of a lot of the angles,” Tuggle said. “We’re all here to help.”