Financial Abuse of the Elderly: Sometimes Unnoticed, Always PredatoryJune 17, 2020 | By administrator
Mariana Cooper, 86,with her granddaughter, Amy Lecoq, 39. Ms. Cooper was bilked out of much of her savings by someone she considered a friend.
It was only after Mariana Cooper, a widow in Seattle, found herself with strained finances that she confessed to her granddaughter that she was afraid she had been bilked out of much of her savings.
Over three years, Ms. Cooper, 86, had written at least a dozen checks totaling more than $217,000 to someone she considered a friend and confidante. But the money was never paid back or used on her behalf, according to court documents, and in early November the woman who took advantage of Ms. Cooper, Janet Bauml, was convicted on nine counts of felony theft. (She faces sentencing on Dec. 11.)
Ms. Cooper, who lost her home and now lives in a retirement community, is one of an estimated five million older American residents annually who are victimized to some extent by a caregiver, friend, family member, lawyer or financial adviser.
With 10,000 people turning 65 every day for the next decade, a growing pool of retirees are susceptible to such exploitation. As many as one in 20 older adults said they were financially mistreated in the recent past, according to a study financed by the Justice Department.
Traditionally, such exploitation, whether by family, friends or acquaintances, often has been minimized as a private matter, and either dismissed with little or no penalty or handled in civil court.
Even when the sums are large, cases like Ms. Cooper’s are often difficult to prosecute because of their legal complexity and because the exploitation goes unnoticed or continues for long periods. Money seeps out of savings and retirement funds so slowly it draws attention only after it is too late.
Ms. Cooper, for example, wrote her first check, for $3,000, in early 2008, and later gave Ms. Bauml her power of attorney. In early 2012, after Ms. Cooper realized that Ms. Bauml was not going to repay her in time for her to afford a new roof for her house, she told her granddaughter, Amy A. Lecoq, about the checks. She later called the police.
Ms. Bauml maintained that Ms. Cooper gave her money for services she provided as a home organizer or as loans.
Later, testing by a geriatric mental health specialist found that Ms. Cooper had moderate dementia, which showed her judgment had been impaired.
The diagnosis “helped the jury to understand why she would keep signing all these checks to this woman as loans when she was never being paid back,” said Page B. Ulrey, senior deputy prosecutor for King County, Wash., who pressed the case against Ms. Bauml.
The case was challenging in part because Washington State does not have an elder abuse statute, said Ms. Ulrey, who is one of a small but growing number of prosecutors around the country with the specific duty of prosecuting those who take financial advantage of elders, whether it is connected to investments, contracts or other fraud.
As the number of complaints grows, more municipalities are trying to combat such abuse, which is often intertwined with physical or sexual abuse, and emotional neglect.
Some organizations also have set up shelters, modeled on those for victims of domestic abuse. In the Bronx, for example, the Weinberg Center for Elder Abuse Prevention at the Hebrew Home in Riverdale started such a shelter in 2005. Since then, 14 other such shelters have been opened in various long-term care operations around the country to deal with urgent cases of financial abuse.
One such woman, who agreed to talk only if she was not identified by her last name, stayed at Riverdale after she was threatened with eviction. A neighbor discovered that the woman, a 73-year-old widow named Irene, had not paid her rent in six months because relatives living with her had been withdrawing money from her account and leaving her short of funds.
“I had to leave with one small suitcase,” Irene said. “They were abusing me.”
She was later able to move to federally subsidized housing away from the abusive situation.