Monday, February 10, 2020

Newly formed task force works to tackle elder fraud

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SAN ANTONIO – Bexar County Probate Court Judge Veronica Vasquez deals with emergency removal of seniors almost daily, and she says many of those cases involve financial exploitation.

“If you hear the things that I hear my courtroom, you can’t help but want to do something about it. So it’s incredibly frustrating when you feel like on the other end nothing is happening,” she said.

Vasquez said she’s seen many different cases of elderly exploitation, including people stealing their Social Security checks, selling them plastic Mardi Gras beads for hundreds of dollars or scamming them over roof repairs.
Courtesy: Texas Department of Family and Protective Services
Courtesy: Texas Department of Family and Protective Services
The current system did not track how many cases, if any, investigated and submitted to law enforcement by the Texas Adult Protective Services, or APS, were ever prosecuted, Vasquez explained.

State Sen. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio, formed the Bexar County Elder Abuse and Exploitation Task Force to figure out a new system to ensure financial crimes against seniors don’t fall through the cracks. 

Since fall 2019, agencies including APS, law enforcement, banks and the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office meet to go over solutions and cases.

“We also have a legislative committee to look at the statute to see how can we beef up some of these statutes or what can we do to ensure successful prosecution,” Vasquez said.

APS reports that in 2018, there were 130 validated exploitation cases in Bexar County, second to Harris County, which had 175 cases. 

An APS validation means a staff member investigated a case and found there was enough evidence to send the information to law enforcement for criminal prosecution. But no one tracks what happens to those cases once they leave the hands of APS investigators.
Courtesy: Texas Department of Family and Protective Services
Courtesy: Texas Department of Family and Protective Services
Vasquez said the task force has already identified those types of cracks at every agency and is working to ensure a better process that results in prosecuting more cases. At this point, Vasquez said it’s not about pointing fingers but taking action.

Menendez said his office will help oversee what, if anything, those agencies need to do their jobs, whether it’s more money or statutory changes.

“We need to be protective of those people who’ve done so much for all of us," Menendez said. "I mean, most of us wouldn’t be here without someone in our life that was there as a role model, as a caretaker, as a parent or grandparents, a teacher, someone who took care of someone before them.”

APS figures show Bexar County has the largest percentage population of people over 65 years old at 12%. Tarrant County is has 10.7%.

Officials hope to see results sooner rather than later.

“Every single one of us has a loved one that’s going to age, or we’re going to age and we may be in this situation. And so it’s something that affects every single person in the population," Vasquez said.

The next step is educating the public on how to report elder financial fraud abuse and reassure them the cases will be prosecuted.

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Newly formed task force works to tackle elder fraud

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