I was recently reading a blog post by a colleague regarding how the current Virginia law fails to protect seniors with cognitive impairments from fraud and elder financial abuse. The blogger had been involved in an elder fraud case and was dismayed that the charges had been dropped, although clearly elder care fraud and a theft had occurred. This was clearly a very disappointing outcome for all involved, and not uncommon sadly. However, perhaps this case is an opportunity for others to learn and plan going forward. I agree that the system in the state of Virginia is failing to adequately protect those who are the most vulnerable and in need. We truly have a long way to go in looking out for older adults and for those with cognitive impairments. As the average life expectancy, older adult, and dementia population continues to grow we must do a better job and have more safeguards in place. Recently, banks have reported a 12% increase of suspected financial abuse cases and are thankfully beginning to step up efforts to detect and stop fraud! U.S. banks reported a record 24,454 suspected cases of elder financial abuse to the Treasury Department last year! This is more than double the amount formally reported five years earlier. This significant increase occurred just as new federal and state laws are finally prompting banks to take a more active role in trying to address fraud and scams that target vulnerable populations and older adults. Banks are improving their training programs for employees focusing on how to best detect, and stop fraud. In addition, fraud reporting issues without violating a customer’s privacy are being addressed. So changes are coming at the state and national level and hopefully this momentum will continue!
So under these conditions, what can individuals do to assist those at risk?
1. Ensure that your family member has a trusted, reputable individual overseeing bill payment and financial management aspects. All individuals should also have an elder care attorney for ongoing support and guidance and to ensure that they have all legal documents such advanced medical / healthcare directives and power of attorneys correct, in order, and completed per their expressed wishes.
2. If a family member is at risk due to cognition or other medical issues and has unsupervised care providers in the home do not allow checks and other financial related items to remain on the premises as this could set them up for fraud. In addition, having valuable items secured in the home or offsite is also important to deter theft and fraud. Do not offer temptations to others. In some cases you can also upfront about no financial information or valuables being kept on premises. This lets other know that you all are in control and monitoring things closely!
3. Consider setting up a safe purchasing and financial management system via true link or another reputable vendor to allow for account protections, spending parameters, and alerts to be in effect to minimize the opportunity for improper use, theft, and fraud. True link and similar vendors can also help with overall financial management including: investment portfolios specifically designed for retirees and people with disabilities, integrated systems for anyone protecting the assets of a family member or client, assisting to ensure that available assets can be used to pay bills, issue checks, or put money onto a True Link Card, and guidance in preserving records and controls necessary for Medicaid eligibility.
4. Keep the work relationships and roles clear! Private duty caregivers are there to provide a service, so do not set up a dysfunctional process, be clear and constant with their role and client relationship. At times the lines can become blurred as we hope for one thing and sometimes reinforce another. We want caregivers who are kind, good companions, and liked by our loved ones. I often hear family members say, "we wanted someone who was like a member of the family." Care providers can in these situations become too close to clients opening up the door to inappropriate gifting and fraud. While the client may still cognitively understand the nature or consequences of the transaction or the disposition of money or other items of value involved in the gifting, they are being perhaps manipulated and pressured into what is a fraudulent and inappropriate act. Those with moderate dementia are easily manipulated by others sadly. Take steps to avoid the potential for this type of situation or relationship to develop. Planning well will save heart ship later.
5. Monitor for fraud ongoing. Those committing elder care fraud and financial abuse are often family members, friends, care givers, workers, etc. They are generally people that we know well and have a close relationship to the individuals being abused. Disastrous changes can therefore happen fast! If you have a family member looking out for a loved one and their lifestyle changes, they begin to isolate the individual, or have an abrupt attitude change, be on the alert that there is most likely a problem that requires immediate intervention. If your loved one has developed a sudden close romantic relationship with an individuals that appears to be moving faster than normal or is again isolating, then be on the alert! Do not be afraid to confront this individuals and do the right thing!!! Sadly elder fraud is often tolerated to keep peace in families and to avoid conflict. When this is done it often results in disastrous financial consequences quickly! Take action sooner versus later for these case, as procrastinating will not produce a good outcome.
6. Along the same lines and this should go without saying, but many times family members are aware of fraud and are afraid to report it for a variety of reasons. All elder care financial abuse and fraud must be reported! It is estimated that only 1 in 44 cases of financial abuse get reported sadly! Promptly report any suspected elder fraud or theft to the police and state social service agency. Every state has an elder abuse hotline and the national center for elder abuse can be used as a resource.
7. If fraud or theft occurs be supportive of your loved one and move things forward in a positive manner. Make them the focus and provide them with support! Making them feel bad for their actions will help no one. They may feel foolish for being taken advantage of and will need an opportunity to talk, express feelings, and be provided with support and comfort. Take the right steps to provide assistance and if needed find an advocate such as a care manager to assist further.
8. Consult a care manager to obtain guidance, assess, and form a safe plan to support your loved one . Having a knowledgable resource and a plan in place will give everyone comfort and peace of mind!
For additional reference:
§ 18.2-178.1. Financial exploitation of mentally incapacitated persons; penalty.
A. It is unlawful for any person who knows or should know that another person suffers from mental incapacity to, through the use of that other person’s mental incapacity, take, obtain, or convert money or other thing of value belonging to that other person with the intent to permanently deprive him thereof. Any person who violates this section shall be deemed guilty of larceny.
B. Venue for the trial of an accused charged with a violation of this section shall be in any county or city in which (i) any act was performed in furtherance of the offense or (ii) the accused resided at the time of the offense.
C. This section shall not apply to a transaction or disposition of money or other thing of value in which the accused acted for the benefit of the person with mental incapacity or made a good faith effort to assist such person with the management of his money or other thing of value.
D. As used in this section, “mental incapacity” means that condition of a person existing at the time of the offense described in subsection A that prevents him from understanding the nature or consequences of the transaction or disposition of money or other thing of value involved in such offense.