Monday, June 27, 2016

Financial abuse of seniors big, and getting bigger

After two and a half decades working in public and private litigation across Oregon, attorney Shawn O’Neil decided to take up work closer to his home in Wilsonville. He opened his own firm in the city several years ago, and solicited for a range of services, from business law to personal injury and governmental affairs.

But he was surprised to discover a need in the community for a practitioner willing to take on another sort of issue: the financial exploitation of seniors.

“Since opening a law firm here in Wilsonville a couple years ago, I’ve seen about a third of my practice involve elder financial abuse cases,” O’Neil said at a talk he gave in Charbonneau last month on elder financial abuse. “I was not prepared to see the amount of people out there that are being taken advantage of by swindlers, family members and even professionals.”

There a number of reasons that older adults are often targeted, O’Neil said. People over age 50 control 70 percent of the country’s wealth. He also noted that seniors often don’t realize the value of their assets, and are less likely to take actions against abusers.

Especially troubling is that many of the abuse cases O’Neil sees are committed not by professional con artists, but by the family members of victims.

“They stand to inherit, and feel justified in taking what is almost — or ‘rightfully’ — theirs,” O’Neil said.

A statewide problem

That sort of thinking is common in financial abuse cases occurring statewide, according to Billie McNeely, financial exploitation case specialist for Oregon’s Department of Human Services/Oregon Health Authority shared services.

“Oftentimes it doesn’t start out with ill intentions,” McNeely said. “There’s a sense of entitlement: They think, ‘This is my inheritance,’ or ‘This is going to come to me anyway.’”

McNeely notes a statewide increase in the incidence of elder financial abuse cases. Between 2013 and 2014 there was an 11.5 percent increase in the number of cases her office saw, from around 3,400 cases to nearly 3,800 (data from 2015 has yet to be compiled).

That number is likely low, McNeely said. She said one national estimate found that for every 44 cases of elder financial exploitation, only one was reported.

The average amount stolen in Oregon cases is around $25,000, McNeely said. At the same time, the state sometimes sees cases where as little as $100 is stolen.

“But for someone who’s on Social Security, that can have a big impact,” McNeely said.

McNeely said that financial abuse is likely to continue to grow as the Baby Boomer generation ages.

The Oregon Office of Economic Analysis predicts the number of seniors in the state to increase by 175 percent between 2012 and 2030.

Banks are the most common reporters of financial abuse, and might notify DHS if they see an elderly person attempting to wire transfer a large sum of money. That might happen when a victim is targeted by professional scammers, which McNeely said happens in only around 3 percent of cases known to the state, as of a 2013 study.

“The banks have really stepped up and done their part to train their tellers to recognize financial exploitation, and to report it,” McNeely said.  (Continue Reading)

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Financial abuse of seniors big, and getting bigger

1 comment:

StandUp said...

It's going to be at epic proportions when the Boomers get truly old. This country is not ready for that.