What is elder exploitation?

Texas law defines exploitation as: "The illegal or improper act or process of a caretaker, family member, or other individual who has an ongoing relationship with the elderly or disabled person using the resources of an elderly or disabled person for monetary or personal benefit, profit, or gain without the informed consent of the elderly or disabled person."

Undue influence is when a person in a position of trust takes advantage of a vulnerable elder to gain control of their money, property, or their life -- either directly, or through a power of attorney, a trust, marriage, adoption, or inheritance. The elder need not be incapacitated. Fraud by friends and family, new "best friends," "thieving caregivers," religious con artists, financial abuse by family members -- these are examples of exploitation and should be reported to Texas Adult Protective Services at 1-800-252-5400.

Fraudulent contractors, salesmen and telemarketers and home equity fraud should be reported to the Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General's office at 1-800-621-0508.

Warning Signs of Financial Exploitation:

Financial Activity

Sudden changes in bank or credit card activity, including increased withdrawals or use of ATMs or checks made out to "cash"

New names on accounts

Sudden transfers of assets to a family member or nonrelative

Signing for a loan or refinancing home

Unexplained disappearance of valuables, important papers, credit cards

Unusual or frequent gifts to a caregiver or new friend

Substandard care or unpaid bills, despite adequate resources

Lack of awareness of monthly income or recent financial arrangements

Signatures on checks or legal documents unlike the elderly person's

Changes in estate plans

A recent change in power of attorney

A recent change in will or trust, when the elderly person has questionable ability to understand or decide on such changes

A recent change in will or trust benefiting a new or younger friend

Other warning signs

Is the elder now reluctant to discuss matters that were once routine?

Does the elder seem apprehensive of the outside world -- more tired or depressed?

Does the caregiver say the elder is less willing or able to accept visits or calls?

Does the caregiver seem overly concerned about the elder's finances?

Does the caregiver often speak for the elder, even when the elder is present?

Does the caregiver have no means of support other than the elder's income?

Examples of Financial Exploitation

Taking money or other items from the elder's home or bank accounts

Selling or transferring property against an elder's wishes or best interests

Failing to provide agreed services such as care giving, home or vehicle repair, or financial management

Using the elder's credit cards for unauthorized purchases

Using the elder's name or good credit to open new credit accounts

Misusing the elder's Power of Attorney

Refusing to return borrowed money or property as agreed upon, or when requested by the elder or their agent

Creating or changing the elder's will, trusts, or inheritance for the abuser's benefit

Abuser Actions

Isolating, limiting contact with family, friends, and or outsiders by screening mail, phone calls, visitors, and outings and telling the elderly person that only the abuser really cares for them

Falsely promising to take care an elderly person for the rest of their life

Raising excessive fears that the elderly person could lose their house and end up in a nursing home

Manipulating or withholding food or medication so they become weak and compliant.

Threatening harm, neglect, or abandonment

Who Might Be An Abuser

Family members

Caretakers - paid or volunteer

Strangers - met in public, or over the phone, or those who come to the door

Professionals hired by the elder - accountants, bankers, lawyers, doctors

Is there a new person involved in the elder's life, with no logical reason for being there, such as a new boyfriend or girlfriend much younger than the elder?

Has the elder recently changed their doctor, lawyer, accountant, or other professional?

Assessing risk

Does the elder live alone? (Isolation and loneliness are greatest risk factor)

Does the elder spend a lot of time on foot, in public places? Some exploiters search for victims at banks, stores, parks malls, libraries.

How many local friends does the elder have?

Does the elder have information on housing and care options and support groups?

Have the elder's outside activities decreased?

Does the elder have nearby family? Is there weekly contact?

Is the elder overly friendly and helpful - even to strangers?

Who regularly checks the elder's bank and credit accounts and investments?

Where and from whom is the elder getting financial and medical advice?

Who oversees the elder's Power of Attorney?

Does the elder seek advice of fortunetellers, psychic advisors, or spiritual healers?

Does the elder know when and how to call the police?

Additional resources

Texas APS has a statewide elder-abuse awareness campaign, Everyone's Business. http://www.dfps.state.tx.us/everyonesbusiness/Section1.asp Dr. Bennett Blum: A national authority on undue influence and elder competency, Dr. Blum, a forensic psychiatrist in Tuscon, Az., has developed downloadable worksheets to help professionals and laymen assess possible undue influence and mental incapacity of elders. His worksheets can be found at www.bennettblummd.com.

Dr. Bennett Blum: A national authority on undue influence and elder competency, Dr. Blum, a forensic psychiatrist in Tuscon, AZ., has developed downloadable worksheets to help professionals and laymen assess possible undue influence and mental incapacity of elders. His worksheets can be found at www.bennettblummd.com

Legal Hotline for Older Texans: 800-622-2520, www.tlsc.org/hotline.html. Offers legal advice and referral to Texans 60 and older and anyone Medicaid eligible, with focus on low-income Texans.

The Senior Source, Senior Citizens of Greater Dallas: 214-823-5700, www.theseniorsource.org. Answers questions on guardianship, can help navigate the guardianship referral process. Provides guardianships for incapacitated residents over 50 with no one else available in Collin, Dallas, Hunt, Kaufman and Rockwall counties.

Guardianship Services Inc. of Tarrant County: 817-921-0499, www.guardianshipservices.org. Provides guardianship services for incapacitated residents of Tarrant and Parker counties when no one ese is avaiabe. Also provides money management services.

Area probate courts: accept referrals on county residents who may need guardianships. Their investigators assess all guardianship applications. Judges decide if protection is needed.

Collin County Probate Court: 972-548-6463

Dallas County Probate Coty investigator's office: 214-653-6939

Denton County Probate Court investigator's office: 940-349-2148/2149

Tarrant County probate court investigators offices: 817-884-2189/3395

(Sources: Texas Department of Family and Regulatory Services; Dr. Bennett Blum, The Senior Source: Senior Citizens of Greater Dallas; Elder Financial Protection Network of California; Dallas County probate courts)





© 2007 The Dallas Morning News Co.