Speaker explains risks, impact of elder financial exploitation

| Jennifer Janikula | April 28, 2015 | 0 Comments

U.S. seniors lose more than $2.9 billion every year to greedy financial predators, said Iris Freeman, co-founder and president of the Minnesota Elder Justice Center, who presented at Holy Name of Jesus in Wayzata April 21.

Iris Freeman

Iris Freeman

In most cases, these predators are not strangers with elaborate schemes; rather, they are family members, caregivers or trusted advisors, explained Freeman, who meets with community groups, geriatric professionals and public officials to explain the risks and impact of elder financial exploitation.

“We need to act and stop elder abuse because it takes away the safety and security of people’s dreams,” Freeman said. “I want people to be aware of the warning signs, so if someone you know is at risk, you can take steps to intervene in these very complicated, but commonplace situations.”

To help attendees understand what financial exploitation looks like, Freeman showed attendees a video clip describing a case from Duluth in which an elderly woman’s son used more than $100,000 of her savings to purchase a truck and other personal items instead of paying for her long-term care.

The case, in which the perpetrator was a police officer, highlights the fact that even well-respected community members and family members pose a threat to vulnerable older adults.

Defining financial exploitation
The Minnesota Elder Justice Center defines financial exploitation as “acquiring possession or control of a vulnerable adult’s funds or property through pressure, deception or fraud.” In the most notorious cases, perpetrators include sons, daughters, paid caregivers, religious leaders, financial advisors and “sweethearts.” In other cases, strangers target older adults with a variety of scams involving health care fraud, identity theft, bogus contests and prizes, and phony charities and business opportunities.

Larry Gleason, a parishioner at Holy Name of Jesus since 1982, attended the event to learn how to protect himself and his wife from financial exploitation.

“I appreciate the importance of this issue,” Gleason said. “It’s a big thing to be concerned about.”

He and his wife are especially concerned about being exploited via phone calls. They let all calls go to their answering machine and only pick up if they recognize the voice of the caller. Gleason said he was surprised and saddened to learn people need to be aware of the motives of their family members.

Experts predict a steady increase in elder financial exploitation cases as baby boomers move into their 70s and 80s. Freeman said adults become more vulnerable as they age due to losses of cognitive function, hearing and sight. The impact of financial loss from exploitation can be devastating for those who have a limited ability to earn money to recover lost savings. Large financial losses often lead to depression and other health issues, and financial dependence on family or public resources.

Sharing knowledge
Freeman explained that like most crimes, financial exploitation “thrives in silence.” She encouraged everyone to share their new knowledge by having conversations about potential threats with their loved ones.

Betsy Atkinson, a Holy Name of Jesus parishioner, attended the presentation to understand the impact of being defrauded, and she looks forward to related conversations with her family and community. Her parents, who are in their mid-80s, have a unique approach to their finances that will hopefully minimize their risk of financial exploitation.

“I give great credit to my parents who hold an annual meeting with all seven kids to pass on their values and describe their estate plans,” Atkinson explained. “The tradition strips away the concern people would have with not knowing, and lays it all out so everyone knows.”

For more information about elder financial exploitation, visit elderjusticemn.org, or contact the Minnesota Elder Justice Center at (651) 695-7646.

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Category: From Age to Age