Monday, January 18, 2016

Financial exploitation cases burden seniors, Indiana

In a matter of months, a caregiver wiped out an Indy woman’s savings.

Julie Lagos
 Julie Lagos swiped an Indianapolis woman’s credit cards to pay for tattoos, body piercings, a 60-inch TV, furniture rentals and a racing vehicle for her boyfriend. Lagos even charged the filing fee for her divorce to the 79-year-old’s Chase card.

All in all, Lagos was accused of spending more than $150,000 of the older woman’s money. Perhaps even more disturbing was their relationship: Lagos was hired to be the woman’s caregiver.

In a matter of months, Lagos had turned her client’s savings into her personal playground.

But it would take a year and a half to file criminal charges — and many cases never get that far.

Indiana’s underfunded and understaffed Adult Protective Services system is so swamped that it struggles to investigate all but the most egregious and clear-cut cases of financial exploitation, an IndyStar investigation has found.

Multiple officials told IndyStar that financial exploitation cases, which are among the most complex and time-consuming to investigate, often sink to the bottom of a priority list when APS investigators are facing allegations of horrific abuse or neglect.

Officials in one APS unit told IndyStar they have open financial exploitation cases that are up to seven years old. The victims are safe, they say, but investigators haven’t had time to pursue criminal charges.

That problem is expected to get worse. The number of financial exploitation cases in Indiana rose 33 percent in the past decade, according to Michael Patterson, executive director of Indiana APS.
“It’s going to be a drain on our resources if we don’t get a handle on it,” he said.

The National Adult Protective Services Association estimates that 1 in 10 victims of financial exploitation ends up on public assistance, such as Medicaid. Research indicates victims also are more likely to be hospitalized and more likely to move into nursing homes.

Indiana saw 1,277 financial exploitation cases involving elder adults in 2010 alone, compared with just 110 bank robberies, according to state records. Bank robberies that year resulted in losses of less than $1 million. Financial exploitation: $38 million.

Nationally, older adults lose about $2.9 billion each year through financial abuse and exploitation, according to a 2011 MetLife Study of Elder Financial Abuse.

Demographic changes are behind the numbers. First, the population is aging. And, second, pensions have become less popular, meaning retirees handle more of their own savings.

“It’s a tempting target: declining health plus money,” said Orion Bell, president and CEO of CICOA Aging and In-Home Solutions.

Legislators are considering several bills that would make it easier to investigate and prosecute financial crimes. But prosecutors say APS needs more investigators to handle the cases it has now, let alone those coming from the “silver tsunami” of aging baby boomers.

‘You’ll have to talk to Julie’

Lagos met her client, a woman with dementia, while working for a home care company in the Indianapolis area, Marion Superior Court records state. When the company went out of business, the woman asked Lagos to continue to provide services through a private agreement.

In 2009, the client’s power of attorney agreed to pay Lagos $200 for three visits per week. She helped with the woman’s personal care, grocery shopping, house cleaning and errands.

About a year later, in June 2010, the elderly woman opened a new Bank of America credit card. Lagos was added as an authorized user in August.

In one month, the Indianapolis woman’s credit card balance ballooned from zero to $19,175.20.

A Bank of America fraud analyst called Lagos, who said she was the older woman’s caregiver. Then she provided a fake address.

The analyst also reached out to the cardholder to ask about the large purchases. The woman told the analyst she didn’t know anything about the transactions but said she wanted Lagos on the account.
She started to cry.

Don’t call again, she told the analyst.

The analyst called Indiana Adult Protective Services on Oct. 12, 2010, to report suspected financial exploitation.

The next day, APS investigator Joie Davis visited the 80-year-old woman, who cracked the door open, the chain lock still attached. Davis flashed a badge and ID.

“You’ll have to talk to Julie,” the woman said, quickly shutting the door. Davis knocked again, repeatedly, but the woman wouldn’t respond.  (Continue Reading)

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Financial exploitation cases burden seniors, Indiana

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