Abuse, financial exploitation of the elderly rising in Utah | News, Sports, Jobs

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Al Behrman, Associated Press

In this Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013, photo, an elderly woman who has suffered abuse by a relative watches “I Love Lucy” on a television inside her room at Cedar Village retirement community in Mason, Ohio. The center asked that her identity be protected for this story because the close relatives who allegedly abused her don’t know where she is.

SOUTH OGDEN — Elder abuse is on the rise in Utah, with thousands of cases reported each year.

Nearly 17% of the state’s population will be over the age of 60 by the year 2030, which means elder abuse is a critical public health issue that must be addressed now, according to several experts across the state.

During a virtual conference on Wednesday commemorating Elder Abuse Awareness Day, experts from the field discussed problems that range from financial exploitation, self-neglect, neglect from others, isolation and abandonment, plus physical, emotional and sexual abuse. The conference was co-hosted by Utah’s Division of Aging and Adult Services, AARP Utah, Utah Commission on Aging, the Alzheimer’s Association Utah Chapter, Utah 211, Weber Human Services and Utah’s Association of Area Agencies on Aging to learn more about elder abuse.

Kathy Greenlee, senior director for elder justice programs with ADvancing States, said a recent survey shows financial exploitation as one of the fastest growing areas when it comes to elder abuse.

“It’s the highest increasing number in Utah,” she said.

Financial abuse happens when an elderly person’s money is illegally used without their permission, but it can also occur when those close to them coerce them into freely handing it to them without the knowledge they’re being duped.

Grant Johnson, a volunteer for Davis County’s Coalition of Abuse, said his mother in-law, who lived in Ogden, was the victim of financial abuse by some of her own family members who were living with her at the time.

Johnson said one family member convinced her a much-needed surgery to prevent paralysis would cost $4,000, so she handed it over to them. The family later learned the individual used the money to purchase a vehicle for himself.

“We got Adult Protective Services involved and they showed us how to stop the bleeding,” he said. “We began to give her the money she needed and that infuriated them. When they finally stopped coming around, she enjoyed the last five years of her life.”

Lauren Saunders, associate director for the National Consumer Law Center, said Utah experienced 19,721 reports of financial fraud in 2021, equaling $39 million in losses, something she says is an understatement because many people don’t come forward.

“Older people aren’t necessarily any more susceptible than anyone else, but when they are scammed, they lose a lot more money and those losses can be devastating,” she said.

Saunders said banks and other reputable institutions will never call you on the phone and ask for your identification, personal information or verification codes used to log into your account. She said scammers are also very good at tricking people into sending money by Zelle, Venmo or wire transfers. They’ll even trick you into sending money to “yourself” as a way to drain your finances.

“If this happens, complain to everyone as quickly as you can,” she said.

Candice Daniel, a clinical psychologist certified in geropsychology, said she believes elder abuse is under-reported.

“I saw a study that showed nearly an 84% increase just this past year which equals more like 1 in 5,” she said. “Elder abuse has increased, not only across the state, but we’ve seen evidence nationally and worldwide.”

There are several ways the public can help protect their elderly friends and family members. The first and most important tool, experts say, is to educate yourself, your neighbors, friends, family members and community.

Greenlee said it’s important to recognize the warning signs and take action immediately by calling 1-800-371-7897.

According to Utah’s Adult Protective Services, some of the signs to watch for include:

  • An elderly person who is being intimidated, threatened, harassed, coerced or isolated.
  • Multiple bruises in various stages of healing, unexplained fractures, abrasions and lacerations, and multiple injuries.
  • Inappropriate soiled clothes, dehydration, malnourishment, or indication of over- or under-medicated behavior.
  • Inadequate living environment.
  • Forced to sign over control of finances.
  • Little or no money for food, clothes or other necessities.
  • Glasses and other aides usually worn are missing.
  • Funds, credit, assets or other property misused.

You can report financial abuse to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau at 855-411-2372, ReportFraud.FTC.gov, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov or your financial institution.



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