Elder financial abuse a growing problem

Elderly people, in Rappahannock County as elsewhere, are being taken — with increasing frequency, according to local authorities who hope to provide help and raise awareness of the problem.

With the high incidence of financial scams directed at senior citizens in the region, Aging Together in Rappahannock held a roundtable discussion last Thursday (Nov. 20) at the library to discuss elder financial abuse. Aging Together recently received a grant from the Family and Children’s Trust (FACT) Fund of Virginia to address fiscal abuse in the five-county region of Culpeper, Fauquier, Madison, Orange and Rappahannock.

According to Sharon Pyne of Rappahannock Social Services, the organization “plans to use the grant to help educate our community on elder financial abuse and build a stronger support system when dealing with this kind of abuse. It is getting to be a huge issue.” Similar roundtable discussions have been held in the other four counties.

Participants in the meeting included representatives from the Rappahannock County Sheriff’s Office, Union First Market Bank, Rappahannock Adult Protective Services, Rappahannock Rapidan Community Services, the Department of Social Services, other social services organizations and individuals familiar with senior care and caregiving.

Sheriff Connie C. Smith described some common situations of elder  financial abuse. “For instance, people represent themselves as contractors and offer to fix a falling gutter or do other home repair, which in some cases is not needed,” she said. “The elderly homeowners will be overcharged for the work, or the work may not be done at all.”

She also talked about the growing frequency of scam phone calls. “People get calls that they have won the lottery. The caller will say that he is sending a check that the elder needs to cash. They are then to send some of the money back to the caller to receive the lottery proceeds. The check the victim received then bounces and they have lost their money.”

Many area residents have also received scam IRS calls. “Someone calls pretending to be an IRS agent,” Smith said. “They accuse the victim of being delinquent with their taxes. Often the scammer says that the victim is about to be arrested by state police or the sheriff.” The purpose of these calls is to extort money from the victim. Smith said that her office has received many reports about the IRS calls, but that the calls are very difficult to trace. “People need to know that the IRS will never call taxpayers.”

The sheriff’s office offers a guide to government telephone scam prevention at rappahannockcountyva.gov/documents/ScamPrevention.pdf.

Sherry Cillo, vice president and senior branch manager at Rappahannock’s Union First Market Bank, said personnel at financial institutions see instances of elder financial abuse involving family members and unrelated caregivers. “We see cases of dishonest caregivers accompanying their charges to the bank and persuading them to withdraw large sums of money when this would be an unusual practice for the senior.”

Pyne said that, even though bank personnel may have evidence of fraud, the crime is difficult to prosecute. “Many times family members don’t want to press charges against another family member,” she said, “or the victim is too embarrassed or intimidated to come forward.” Government privacy regulations also restrict the manner in which financial institutions can get involved. Cillo said that, when her bank suspects elder financial abuse, it gets reported to the bank’s security department.

Regional Aging Together chair Sallie Morgan talked about the Protective Money Management Program offered by the Rappahannock-Rapidan Community Services Board and Area Agency on Aging (RRCSB-AAA). The program recruits, trains and supervises volunteers who help their clients by establishing budgets, paying bills and ensuring financial stability. “These volunteers agree to be representative payees for vulnerable individuals,” Morgan said.

Roundtable participants discussed resources for individuals and families to call on if they suspect elder financial abuse. Pyne closed the meeting by thanking the participants for their input on the needs of the local community. She said that the information gained from the roundtables in the five counties would be used to expand prevention programs for elder financial abuse and that upcoming community events would be announced.

Further study

The following organizations offer information and resources for recognizing and combating elder financial abuse:

About Patty Hardee 285 Articles
Writer, consultant, actor, director, recovering stand-up comic, Patty covers the county’s courts and other topics of interest for Rappahannock News. She lives with her grape-growing husband Bill Freitag in Flint Hill.