THE ASIAN CULTURE AND ELDER ABUSE

Many of us do not realize that elder abuse is not just a problem in the United States. According to the World Health Organization, (WHO), it is now a global health crisis and as well as a human rights violation. This is a result of economic, cultural and societal changes.

The WHO has found that when there is erosion of the bonds between generations of a family, elder abuse can more easily occur. It also noted that changes in the basic support networks for seniors have left many without people they feel they can trust to reveal the shame and anguish of elder abuse.

One culture that has seen a rise in elder abuse is the Asian Culture. For many years, people in the Americas and Europe praised the Asian culture for honoring their older adults. Sadly, this has changed for many in the Asian Culture.

For example, China has seen a major change in the family structure in recent years. In traditional Chinese society, the elderly used to live with one of their children. But nowadays, more and more young adults are moving out, leaving their elderly parents alone. Because the structural change, the elderly have to figure out how to arrange their late years when their families can’t take care of them. A recent survey had shown that about 23% of China’s seniors over the age of 65 live by themselves.

In the Asian community in Winnipeg, Canada, there are campaigns regarding elder abuse awareness in the Filipino community. The United States and Canada has seen an increase in elder abuse in the Asian communities. The biggest hurdle for those seniors is the language barrier.

In the Philippines, the Coalition of Services of the Elderly Inc. (COSE) has working been diligently to protect those victims of elder abuse. Japan, in recent years, has seen more cases of elder abuse. In South Asia, elder abuse is hard to detect as a result of the expectations of parents to serve as:

  • housekeepers
  • cooks
  • baby sitters
  • drivers
  • maids

There have been recent reports coming out of South Asia of kids getting their parents to sell all their land back in their home country and taking all the money away from them. Also, there has been reports of parents left on the balconies for the day in minus 30 weather conditions.

In the next weeks, I will discuss the problem of elder abuse in Africa, Europe, Latin America and Australia. It is important for all of us to understand that awareness and reporting will improve and in many cases, save the lives of older adults.

I, as always, encourage everyone to report incidents of elder abuse to the local authorities. The website for the National Center on Elder Abuse is http://www.ncea.aoa.gov. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them.

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SCAMS AND OLDER ADULTS

At least twice a week, I receive a phone call from my mother hysterical about some call she received regarding receiving a free home inspection or a trip she won from a contest she never entered. She is now anxious when she sees an unfamiliar phone number in the caller ID.

My mother’s anxiety is shared by many older adults. There are now so many scams targeted toward older adults. Research has shown that during hard economic times, older adults are most likely to be targeted. Many older adults are inundated with junk mail. John Breyault, director of the National Consumers League’s fraud center warns that once a senior takes the bait for one scam, thieves sell the person’s name, address and telephone number.

In Pemaquid, Maine, Gwendolyn Swank had worked her entire life and by the time she reached her 70s, she had more than $300,000 in assets plus a monthly Social Security check to cover living expenses. Rodney Chapman, a neighbor and close friend, convinced her into buying into an auto repair shop where she would also work as a bookkeeper. Swank had previous experience as a financial bookkeeper. He managed to keep her hostage in her home using her fear of drug dealers.  He would make calls to her home impersonating a sheriff or a law enforcement officer working a drug bust.  She paid for business expenses without seeing any return on her investment. After six years, all she had left in her account was 37 cents. She is behind on payments to credit card companies for expenses accrued on behalf of Chapman, and owes her landlord and Central Maine Power Co. thousands of dollars. She owes $60,000 in state and federal taxes for money she withdrew from stocks and IRAs and gave to Chapman. Even though the Court awarded her a $1.3 million judgment against Chapman in 2011, it is highly unlikely that she will never recover her losses.

Financial fraud is the fastest growing form of elder abuse. A 2009 study by MetLife’s Mature Market Institute estimates that older adults lose approximately $2.6 billion per year due to financial abuse — fraud, as well as theft by family members and acquaintances. Here is a list of common scams aimed at older adults:

  • Telemarketing and mail scams: The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that dishonest telemarketers take in an estimated $40 billion each year, bilking one in six American consumers — and the AARP claims that about 80% of them are 50 or older.
  • “Sweetheart” scams: These scams tug at the heartstrings of the older adult, convincing him/her that love and care are their motivations for being included on bank accounts or property deeds. 
  • Charging outrageous amounts for services/products: Fast-talking scammers first convince the older adult that he/she needs some product or services, then seriously overcharge him/her — often hiding the high cost in extravagant schemes involving interest and installment payments. It is usually a service or product the older adult might find essential to their quality of life, such as hearing aids and safety alert devices.
  • Faking an injury: This is targeted at older adults who are homeowners and/or financially secure.
  • Unsolicited home repairs: The scammers usually work in teams of two or more, scammers scour neighborhoods with a high concentration of older residents, or even track recent widows and widowers through obituaries and death notices, then appear on their doorsteps claiming to spot something in need of fixing — a hole in the roof or clogged drainpipe, for example. They will demand payment up front, and then often claim that their initial investigation reveals a more serious problem, with a more expensive solution. The work is usually shoddy and the scammers are unlicensed. In many cases, one scammer will distract the older adult while the partner will scan the house and steal money and jewelry.

Older adults can protect themselves by

  • throwing junk mail away;
  • question the caller, usually this will deter him/her from speaking further;
  • when you are on the internet, make sure that you are on a secure site, particularly when making online purchases;
  • make sure that you do not select “remember me”or the “keep me signed in” to prevent anyone from accessing your online banking or shopping accounts;
  • do not give personal information over the phone;
  • contact the Better Business Bureau if you have questions about a potential contractor;
  • visit the Federal Trade Commission at http://www.ftc.gov, the National Consumer League at http://www.nclnet.org and AARP at http://www.aarp.org for the latest financial scams and reports.

I encourage everyone to report your suspicions of any type of elder abuse to the local authorities. Please feel free to leave your comments and questions.

THE APPREHENSION REGARDING REPORTING ELDER ABUSE

I recently had a conversation with a young man who told me about the recent ordeal involving his 84-year-old father.  His father lives independently and is able to take fairly good care of himself.  He received a call from his father. This call encouraged him to visit his father.  He noticed that there was a plumbing issue in the apartment and that one of his wrists was swollen. He questioned his father about his wrist and his father told him that he fell on the bus.  The young man asked him to if he reported it to the transit company and he replied that he did not want to pursue it because it was his fault.

The young man then proceeded to question him about the plumbing issue.  His father replied that the maintenance worker told him that he had to order a part. The maintenance worker then proceeded to go into the kitchen, take out some chicken and proceeded to prepare himself lunch. His father said that this was, in fact, a regular occurrence. He also mentioned that he once overheard a conversation outside his apartment door between the maintenance worker and his neighbor.  The neighbor was questioning the maintenance worker about why he is bothering the young man’s father. After the conversation,the maintenance worker knocked on his door and proceeded to go into the kitchen and prepare food.

He asked his father if he reported it to the building superintendent and his father replied yes. Of course, the young man was very concerned, placed a call to the superintendent. Later that day, the superintendent returned the call and her tone was one of indignation.  She was offended that she was questioned about the maintenance worker and said that she would never hire anyone that would treat her tenants that way.  She then proceeded to imply that his father may possibly suffer from dementia, changed the subject and mentioned that his apartment did not pass the recent inspection.

The young man informed the superintendent that he’s a private detective who had experience investigating elder abuse allegations and told the superintendent that she was trying to make the maintenance worker the victim and discount his father’s complaint.  Later that afternoon, the superintendent called back apologetic and informed him plumbing issue was resolved and she would investigate the matter regarding the habitual violation of his father’s apartment.

This is just an example of how many seniors are treated on a regular basis when living alone without having regular visits from their relatives or friends.  You will also note that the young man’s father did not pursue the issue because he felt ignored.

Many asked why seniors and others who witness elder abuse are not filing complaints. The Clark County Prosecutor’s Office in Indiana listed these reasons:

  • they are afraid of retaliation,
  • they think they will be put in an institution,
  • they are ashamed that a family member mistreated them,
  • they think that the police and social agencies cannot really help them, or
  • they think that no one will believe them.

Other reasons are:

  • a lack of community and professional awareness about the problem
  • a lack of identification of certain situations as constituting elder abuse, for example, where no physical violence is being experienced
  • people may not know who will be able to help them—who do they report it to and what will they do?
  • victims of elder abuse tend to be quite isolated, which means that they may not be able to access assistance and that the abuse continues in the absence of the scrutiny of others
  • older people and professionals may be afraid that the consequences of reporting the abuse will place the victim in a worse position than they are currently in, such as being institutionalized
  • older people may be ashamed that they are being abused by people they should be able to trust, such as close family members,64 they may not want to jeopardize important relationships with family or friends, or may fear retaliation from their abuser
  • health professionals may lack protocols and procedures for addressing abuse.

I have spoken to several attorneys who told me about cases where the evidence was clear regarding abuse, the authorities did not pursue them because they did not want to do the leg work.  There have been situations where families had to hire private detectives to investigate allegations because of the lack of support from local authorities.  Having said this, this mostly occurs in areas with limited resources.  This, however, is inexcusable.

John Wasik, who writes columns on investments and financial planning, mentioned on Forbes.com that in the over ten years that he has been reporting  financial elder abuse, little has been done to curb scams.  He mentioned that his own relative was a victim of an investment scam.

The good news Wasik says is that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has taking a leading role in protecting our seniors from scams from brokers and bankers.

If you want to report elder abuse, you should contact the elder abuse hotline at 1-866-809-1409.  When calling, you should be prepared to provide:

  • The alleged victim’s name, address, telephone number, sex, age and general condition;
  • The alleged abuser’s name, sex, age, relationship to victim and condition;
  • The circumstances which lead the reporter to believe that the older person is being abused, neglected or financially exploited, with as much specificity as possible;
  • Whether the alleged victim is in immediate danger, the best time to contact the person, if he or she knows of the report, and if there is any danger to the worker going out to investigate;
  • Whether the reporter believes the client could make a report themselves;
  • The name, telephone number and profession of the reporter;
  • The names of others with information about the situation;
  • If the reporter is willing to be contacted again; and,
  • Any other relevant information.

I encourage everyone to please contact them if you suspect any form of elder abuse.   I also encourage families and friends to make regular visits to your loved ones’ homes and nursing homes. When someone sees that the senior has no one showing concern, he/she can easily become a target.

Please feel free to leave comments or ask questions.

STEPS TO HELP PREVENT ELDER FINANCIAL ABUSE

It cannot be stressed enough the severity of elder financial abuse. Many call it the “silent crime”. It is so important for those who suspect it, report it to the local authorities. Many states now have mandatory elder abuse reporting. Examples of those who are required to report are the following:

  • Care Custodians
  • Health Practitioners
  • County Welfare Departments
  • Employees of Law Enforcement Agencies
  • Employees of Fire Departments
  • Employees of humane societies and animal control agencies
  • Employees of environmental health and building code enforcement
  • Clergy members
  • Any other protective, public, sectarian, mental health, private assistance, or advocacy agency, or person providing health services or social services to elders or dependent adults
  • Any person who has assumed full or intermittent responsibility for care or custody of an elder or dependent adult.

Now that we have heard all of the horror stories, let us discuss prevention.  An ounce of prevention, as they say, is worth a pound of cure. Here are some things that are recommended by attorneys and estate planning professionals:

  1. Start estate planning while are you in full control of the mental capabilities.  You will be fully present in the choices and steps you took for your future.
  2. Choose an agent that is responsible and trustworthy.  A good rule of thumb is how he/she manages his/her own affairs.
  3. Keep excellent records and control your own assets.  It is recommended that if you are wary of putting a child’s name on your deeds and/or bank accounts, contact an estate attorney to set up a Revocable Trust.
  4. Find out your bank’s policies on protecting the elderly.  Many banks are educating their tellers and employees to report any signs of possible exploitation.  In fact, Wells Fargo’s tellers have been very successful in helping thwart possible abuses to their seniors.  One branch in particular is a branch in Sharon Hill, Pennsylvania. This branch has many seniors in the area and are very protective of their senior customers.
  5. If is also recommended that you build a good relationship with your bank.  David Call of the Naples Florida Weekly gives these tips:
  •  Establish relationship with bank personnel.
  •  Use direct deposit.
  •  Do not leave cash or financial records in the open – keep in a secure place.
  •  If someone is helping you or an aging relative manage finances, have a third party review the information.
  •  Cancel any ATM, debit and credit cards you don’t use.
  •  Don’t give out your PIN or write it on the card.
  •  Do not give out Social Security numbers or account numbers over the  phone.

Unfortunately, elder financial abuse is not going to fade away. However, one can take steps to protect one’s self from this growing problem.  If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them.