On guard against elder financial abuse

Fearful that someone is stealing money from your parents or grandparents, or that an elderly loved one may be exploited for financial gain?

Emily Cardin was, after her mother began sending money to a man she'd never met in person but with whom she had corresponded on Match.com.

That was seven years ago. "My mom lost $60,000 and her home," said Cardin, who lives in King of Prussia.

"All of us saw she wasn't acting logically, but she wouldn't believe us. My theory is that she was in the early stages of dementia."

Her mother, now 72, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's and currently lives nearby in a memory-care facility.

Cardin will tell her mother's story at the National Adult Protective Services Association's 27th annual "Summit on Elder Financial Exploitation" on Thursday. NAPSA's event takes place at the Loews Hotel, 12th and Market Streets.

"Just like driver's ed, seniors need mandatory scam-prevention education. It's a matter of when, not if, seniors are targeted. These criminals are so smart and come across as your best friend," Cardin said.

She and her sister pay the assisted-living facility, and her mother also receives Social Security benefits. The Alzheimer's-related dementia has progressed.

"There's a mourning period with the long goodbye of Alzheimer's. I meet her where she is: She's confused, but she's still a person with feelings and opinions."

Elder financial exploitation has been called "the crime of the 21st century."

Annual financial losses by victims of elder abuse are estimated at $36 billion, according to the 2015 True Link Report on Elder Financial Abuse.

Another hot topic at this week's summit: the "grandkids" scam, and how to prevent it.

This involves a scam artist pretending to be a grandchild and telephoning with a fake "emergency" need for money. Pick a safe word that both parties know, experts urge, to make sure the "grandkids" are really family.

Elder financial abuse destroys incomes, engenders health-care inequities, and fractures families. Despite growing public awareness from a parade of high-profile victims, "it remains under-reported, under-recognized, and under-prosecuted," said Joe Snyder, head of the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging.

With a million people turning 60 every month in the United States, soon older people will outnumber the young. By 2040, there will be more Americans over 80 than there are preschoolers, according to a World Economic Forum report on global demographics.

Changes in the aging brain make elders more susceptible to fraud, so adult protective services in all states work to protect elders, and with various law-enforcement agencies work to prosecute offenders and to educate seniors before they're scammed.

Adult protective service professionals from across the country will be attending this week's summit, which is open to the public for a $150 fee. To register in advance, visit www.napsa-now.org or call 202-333-5622. Walk-in registration is also available.

Locally, elder abuse of any form can be reported to the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging's Older Adult Protective Services 24 hours a day by calling the PCA Helpline, 215-765-9040.

Even normal aging makes seniors "more susceptible to fraud and exploitation," said PCA's Snyder.

So the summit also will feature Jason Karlawish, co-director of the Penn Memory Center, and two experts from the University of Pennsylvania speaking about a program called "Building Bridges to Wealth: Building Bridges to Whealthcare."

Keith Weigelt, a professor at the Wharton School, and Jill Bazelon, program director for the University of Pennsylvania School of Business, will explain the "Building Bridges" education of high school students and adults in inner-city neighborhoods and how it can prevent the next generation of scam victims.

Senior Supervisory Special Agent Janene Holter, of the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General, will speak about crime prevention and the threat of fraud, as well as the growing problem of adult bullying. She will cover scams including charities, lotteries, estate planning, home improvements, checks and money orders, power of attorney, and financial institutions.

earvedlund@phillynews.com

215-854-2808

@erinarvedlund


Some Red Flags

Unpaid bills and liabilities despite adequate income. Termination of vital utilities such as telephone, water, or electricity/gas.

Surrender to others of oversight of finances, without explanation or consent. Transferring of assets to new "friends" assisting with finances.

Checks written to "cash."

Improbable explanations offered when a senior does not understand his or her current finances.

Unexplained disappearance of cash, valuable objects, financial statements; promiscuous spending.

Unexplained or unauthorized changes to wills or other estate documents.

Sudden appearance of property liens or foreclosure notices.

SOURCE: NAPSA