An elderly person is subject to be a victim of elder abuse. If you see something, do something!
Scams, theft, and exploitation of the elderly have reached an all time high! The focus of many to exploit and cheat the innocent and vulnerable, most notably the elderly, is a sickening reflection of the greed and desperation of our general society. You can’t help but ask, “How did we get to this situation where we treat the elderly and infirmed with such disrespect and disdain, coupled with little remorse and concern?” Brazen abuse is happening, and very little attention is brought to the matter. Few seem to care and even fewer are actively trying to help and rectify the situation.
One possible reason for this atrocity is that elder abuse tends to be a silent crime. When an elderly person is abused physically or mentally, they often feel ashamed about the situation and do not speak up. For those who do have the courage to speak up, many who are acquainted with them, such as caregivers or family members, do not take the situation seriously and count the circumstances as incidental or a one-time affair. This means the elderly feel lost, maybe troubled and confused, or tragically, may not even comprehend that a wrong or a crime is being inflicted upon them. Another reason is that abusers target those who are lonely, vulnerable, live alone or with a spouse of similar age, who do not have children or other family living with them, and are more advanced in age, because they believe that the victim can be easily manipulated.
As an example, Sarah Tse, owner of TSE Worldwide Press, personally encountered a situation with a widow who had been swindled and charged $13,000 on her credit card for a replacement water heater which only cost $1400. The financial liability for that dollar amount would have taken 11 years for her to pay off. Her social security income only amounted to $700 a month and she could not conceive how she was going to pay for these charges. The woman was so distressed by the credit card bills, she had a mild heart attack. Sarah visited her and went over the documents and invoices from the plumber and the bank. On behalf of the widow, she was able to attack the alleged financial abuse and bring a favorable resolution.
Thankfully, Sarah was an advocate for this woman! But so many do not have anyone advocating for them, and this is not limited to the US alone. It is a worldwide problem. Because of social media, telecommunications, and the internet, the net is thrown deep and wide. Hong Kong is just one place of many where the older population are targeted, and abuse is rampant. Smart phone usage is high, and therefore, makes them an easy mark. Abusers run scams to call and obtain personal information, specifically ID card numbers, like social security card numbers in the US. Once the scammer obtains that number, they have access to the elder person’s financial accounts, can open bank accounts to take out loans in that number, or open credit card accounts and charge exorbitant amounts maximizing the card(s). It leads to financial havoc in the least and ruin in the most severe circumstances. Callers are subtle, very persuasive, speak kindly and pretend to be helpful, while their goal is to destroy these people financially. The tools of the scammers’ trade are sneaky and crafty tactics which stoke fear and doubt and play on emotional vulnerabilities. This is also a common tactic in the US, for many people of advanced age are not up to date with computer literacy and are dependent on others to help them navigate electronic devices.
The challenge with financial abuse is that it is harder to prosecute for financial crimes versus physical abuse crimes. Sometimes the abuser is a guardian, a caregiver or nurse, a close friend, former employee, or a child or other family member who swindles away their charge’s income through overcharging credit cards, opening accounts in their name to obtain loans or to pay utility bills, purchasing items the charge would not use, etc. The amount of time, energy, and money to prosecute is extensive, and not always easy to resolve.
An extremely crucial step that family members need to take to allay the possibility of financial abuse happening to their loved ones is to ask permission to be able to review, each month, the financial statements, utility bills, and other important documents of the parents. In doing so, the reviewer sees the transactions that are consistent and proper versus any unusual occurrences. The reviewer looks for extra withdrawals, large withdrawals, or even smaller ones, that are sporadic or unusual. Ask to be made the guardian or power of attorney on record. Most importantly, set this in motion before the parent or elder is unable to recognize or understand what is happening because of confusion, progressive dementia, illness, etc.
If a parent doesn’t want to release financial information to the child or guardian, such as a power-of-attorney, ask permission to help the parent with evaluating their financial statements. As you go over the statements together, you can highlight the discrepancies, note any problems, and help them formulate a plan of recourse. Propose to the parent(s) a plan to monitor their financial accounts through companies that prioritize and specialize in this area. One reputable company is Equifax, who monitors identity theft of the name, address, and social security number on the dark web. They delete stolen information to prevent access by hackers. Their coverage is approximately US$29 a month for their service. Other companies have similar services depending on your needs and wants.
Although financial abuse scams are severely challenging and injurious to the elderly, physical abuse is another significantly overlooked issue. Daily there are older people who are physically harmed by their caregivers, their nurses, family members, and assisted living facility workers. Sometimes it may be unintentional, because as we age our bodies become more fragile to the touch. What may not be too rough in the mind of the person caring for the older one ends up being a tragic situation with broken skin, deep bruises, even broken bones. But disturbingly, there are people who intentionally harm the helpless and vulnerable. The abused victims feel afraid, scared, they don’t want to hurt more, and they may believe the threats that if they say anything they will get in trouble, will be hurt more, or their family may be harmed. However, physical abuse is something that is more easily seen on the body, recognized for the harm that is caused, and can be more easily prosecuted when legal charges are filed.
One of the agencies that assist and help with elder abuse cases is Adult Protective Services of Los Angeles County in California. They visit the abused, take the report of the situation, assist them in finding help, guide them in fighting their problem and provide support. If there is an urgent need for help, if the abuse is ongoing and current, call law enforcement immediately! File a police report on elder abuse and provide all proof of documentation, such as a paper trail with financial abuse, or photos of physical harm on the abused. Police Departments have employees or detectives who specialize in elder abuse cases and take statements or interview the victim or spokesperson on their behalf.
If you see something, do something! If you have the slightest inkling about something which seems wrong, different, or not normal, follow your instinct and check into the situation. It is much more important to follow through and know nothing is wrong, than to not do anything and find out later that irreparable harm has been done and you could have prevented it from happening. If you observe harm occurring to another elderly person, not your family member or friend, speak with the person in charge of the facility and put your observations in writing to create a paper trail for use as possible proof in legal filing later. Continue to observe and if no changes occur, get ahold of Adult Protective Services, or contact the Long-Term Care Ombudsman of the California Department of Aging, who assist residents in long-term care facilities with issues related to day-to-day care, health, safety, and personal preferences.
In our day and age, each of us has probably already been a victim of scams and exploitation. One day we will be elderly, and our situation will be more perilous as we face scammers and other violators. What we do now will affect our future. Take care of the elderly in your life now. Express your love, respect, and offer your protection, which they deserve. They need advocates and have the right to feel safe and protected because they are lonely, needy, and vulnerable. As the adage states, “What comes around, goes around,” and “You reap what you sow.” Let’s sow seeds of kindness, wisdom, love and respect.
Contributor: Sarah Y. Tse is the CEO of TSE Worldwide Press, Inc. and Founder of United Yearbook Printing Services. She is the author of 7 Years on the Front Line and co-author of From Illusion to Reality: True Stories and Practical Advice on How to Prepare for Career Success Before Graduating From College. Sarah currently serves as a mentor and speaker at Biola University's Crowell School of Business, and is deeply passionate about empowering people, especially younger professionals, to explore their gifts, goals, and calling.
Editor: Donna Ladner obtained a B.A. in Education and a minor in English from California Baptist University, and a M.S. in ESL from USC, Los Angeles. After she married Daniel, their family moved to Indonesia with a non-profit organization and lived cross-culturally for 15 years before returning to the U.S in 2012. Donna has been working as an editor and proofreader for TSE Worldwide Press and its subsidiary, United Yearbook since 2015.