FraudJournal Blog

October 10, 2011

Calling All Detectives…Elder Exploitation Really is a Crime


First, I want it on the record that this posting is about one or two individuals who felt elder exploitation was not a crime, but rather a family matter. Whether or not they thought about their response in detail it still makes one wonder just the same; what are you thinking?

I have been assisting from time to time on a particular elder financial exploitation case, where the children are exploiting their mother. And here is the kicker. We are having trouble getting the detective to accept the case because this is a family matter and law enforcement are about catching and putting the bad guys in jail; not resolving family matters. This individual was sure elder exploitation was a crime to prosecute. The prosecuting attorney who is willing to take the case, can only wait until a detective processes the case and forwards the case for prosecution. And now once again, another elder exploitation case is pending. Pending a detective to accept the case and apply the necessary due diligence to present the case to the prosecuting attorney.

Now in defense of law enforcement, their fraud case backlog is huge. And I really do mean its a big problem. The people needed to process the cases, with the right skill sets, are few and far between. Funding is next to nothing, all cases are prioritized for the level of community threat, and frankly, elder exploitation is not sexy. Unless there appears to be a possible hastened death situation, their priority is child abuse, murder, rape and the war-on-drugs.

Having said this, let me explain some items that you might not know. First, before any case can get to court, it must first receive a case number from the police department that has jurisdiction in the case. This how it gets tracked, noted, filed and if necessary transferred to the proper jurisdictions. No case number, no detective to process, no litigation.  But I digress, the issue is that the detective felt there isn’t  new laws that make it a crime to exploit an elderly person. It was a family matter to be litigated privately. This individual was also surprised to find out that in WA, there recent changes to state law which gives law enforcement and attorneys the ability to better prosecute for elder exploitation and abuse. This means even if there is not, law enforcement are now able to check in on a vulnerable adult and if necessary, take steps to insure their safety from potential harm whether financial or physical.

The recent set of economic setbacks to all local, county and state agencies has greatly reduced the number of qualified staff able to work the high case load. I understand why the fraud case loads are continuing to back up and that they are as frustrated as the rest of us that there is not enough time in a day to process these cases. I and my fellow fraud fighters understand that public servants need to keep the rapists, murderers and drugs off the streets, but I am concerned that I continue to hear from my colleagues this type of response from veteran detectives/law enforcement officers. Really? This is really how you feel?

I am willing to consider that these few individuals were not thinking clearly; that maybe that cup of coffee was not fully loaded with enough caffeine to engage critical thinking. But this response tends to come from older and more experienced law enforcement personnel, and this concerns me. Why? Because they the men and women that the younger professionals are watching and learning from as they strive for excellence to become viable law enforcement professionals.

As the “Boomer” generation continues to age, their level of vulnerability is going to grow exponentially. This means that they are prey for healthcare fraud, ID theft and of course, abuse and exploitation from friends and family.And they are going to need all of our help.

So my challenge to all of you who continue in the fight against fraud and abuse… please help our law enforcement officers & detectives to believe that elder abuse and exploitation is really a crime worth punishing. That the next vulnerable adult they investigate may be the relative of a friend or neighbor; that they just  might save someone from loosing their home and quite possibly their life.

Thank you for listening.

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March 26, 2011

Potential for Elder Fraud on the Horizon


Hello Everyone. I know its been awhile. Today I would like to share concerns from various conversations with others in the elder care community. This group includes tax preparers, CPA’s, business litigators, caregivers, senior care facilities (both assisted living residential and commercial), and health care workers, and fraud investigators. Why?

Well, as most of you have heard that the number our seniors that have aging parents now needing to place them into assisted care and skilled nursing homes and facilities are increasing. Most locations have been able to accommodate the ebb and flow of family and friends seeking help for their aging parents, spouses, partners and family members. Recently I was visiting an assisted living facility and the executive director commented that he no longer has rooms for the growing number of requests he receives on a daily basis. In fact, he now has had to create a waiting list without any way of assuring the families of a time frame when their loved one can be cared for by skilled staff and in a safe environment.

Which brings me to the next point. Due to the huge and I mean that quite literally, huge upcoming increase in senior/elder care needs, locating affordable and qualified care will be in high demand. This creates a large pool of vulnerable adults open to be preyed upon by the fraudsters in the health care field. This includes medical billing, quality care and safe environments where abuse is not tolerated or able to take place, qualified and vetted personnel (as in proper background checks and monitored activity), not to mention reasonable costs for the care received.

One women in a caregiver support group was aghast when she found out that a facility wanted to charge her a very large administration fee, first and last months space/care fee, a cleaning deposit, and a slush fund for small care needs. This amounted to over $10,000 up front for the first month of care. Most families can barely cover the costs of taking time off to care for a loved one let alone the initial upfront costs to begin care. This was a residential home that was set up to care for six elderly residents, and was part of an LLC that included six other homes just like it. There are many of these homes that work very hard to take very good care of their residents. But this home was not well maintained and the individuals that ran the home allowed family members to come and go and hang around as if it was a normal family home, served only their ethnic foods and was not keeping up the care on the home. This was very disconcerting to the woman and she did remove her mother from the home and chosen to take care of her herself. Which is what many are choosing to do because the costs end up meeting the same as the income they were trying to earn in the first place.

Now, having said this, I know for a fact that a qualified care facility with little turn-over and properly maintained premises is not cheap. Paying the staff what they deserve for the hard work, and think about it, it is hard work otherwise we would not have the need for these types of residential and commercial care locations, are key to running a safe and clean environment. Familiarity or routine is key to helping the elderly feel safe and willing to participate in the care they need. One director told me it takes close to $2000 per new employee to get them properly trained at the level he felt was key to providing the care expected for the fees charged and to remain in compliance with state laws and regulations.

Which brings the next point. There are no standards for care and costs regarding taking care of our elderly citizens aside from the currently established medical and government codes and regulations on running a business or medical practice. That puts the burden on the family to research, vet out and locate places they can both afford and feel their loved ones are safe. This also means they are relying on the homes and facilities to do their ‘due-diligence’ regarding their personnel and policy and procedures.

So here is my final point – the biggest potential for fraud is that the needs will over run the availability of qualified personnel to care and monitor our vulnerable adults. Recent economic conditions create a situation ripe for fraudsters to prey on the elderly either directly or through their caregivers as everyone gets stretched beyond their limits. So here are some ideas that I would like the fraud community to spark conversations on to build a grassroots approach to keeping our loved ones safe and out of harms way.

First, educate as many of those around you on what elder abuse looks like and who and where to report it. Each local city/county has an organization to connect you to the resources available. Second, if you know of someone you think is being targeted or IS unsafe, please reach out to the local law enforcement and ask for them to check in and verify all is well. They have access to governmental agencies for support. Third, ask questions if you need answers regarding the cognitive skill level of our seniors. Early signs may be there and steps need to be taken so they do not become pray to neighbors, family, and other commercial entities looking for easy targets. This includes those of you working in banks and stores.

Now for financial exploitation – this is going to be a very serious situation in the next years ahead. The generation of seniors that are now reaching increased levels of dementia were raised during a time when they understood they needed prepare for retirement. This means most of them have squirreled away some sort of funding to cover their final years. These savings have become an easy target for family, neighbors, and I am sorry to say fellow members of religious organizations to zero in on for support. Befriending the elderly can be easy because they believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt, which means most of them if they are lonely, and they usually are, end up trapped before they know and then have no means to reach out in time to protect themselves from the leeches they have welcomed into their homes and life. Not to mention, if they are in a state of dementia they will not remember what they recently did or agreed to at the time they were parted from their financial future.

Here are some sites to research and get your selves prepared to protect our seniors from harm:

http://helpguide.org/mental/elder_abuse_physical_emotional_sexual_neglect.htm

http://ctwatchdog.com/category/finance/elder-care

http://www.ncea.aoa.gov/ncearoot/Main_Site/index.aspx

http://www.apa.org/pi/aging/resources/guides/elder-abuse.aspx

http://www.calbankers.com/post/preventing-elder-financial-exploitation-how-banks-can-help

http://www.elderangels.com/

http://www.elderangels.com/

 

September 20, 2010

Seniors For Sale – The Elderly At Risk


This post is to bring awareness of how important it is for all of us to protect our senior citizens. The Seattle Times has investigated and published their findings on elder abuse in Washington. It is a four-part series and I have put the links through out my post.

The Elderly At Risk

Seniors citizens who now include the “Boomer” generation, are the men and women who have spent a life time as mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, and neighbors and friends. Their lives are rich in history, experience and knowledge. They remember horse-drawn-buggies, the first television set (in black & white), the first man on the moon, and how fast typewriters became computers. They fought in world wars and foreign conflicts that defined the countries we now see on every map. Many remember the Great Depression and can still stretch a dollar today as well as they did back then. Many are proud to state they were born into the territories of Alaska and Hawaii before statehood. All of these men and women accepted the label as senior citizen when they retired from companies after decades of employment. They worked hard to prepare for a future of self-sufficiency with a hope that when the time came, when they could no longer properly care for themselves, family and friends would be there as they were for them.

However, times have changed. We are living longer, and most families are now spread out from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Our grandparents and parents no longer have easy access to immediate family and most households require two-income earners to care and manage a home. Living longer than planned for, and without the ability to have immediate access to family, most seniors have joined the ranks of the “Elderly at Risk”. These men and women once self-sufficient, have trouble with basic home and health tasks not to mention paying bills to cover the growing medical needs. They get lost easily and struggle to understand the world around them. Families struggle to keep up with their care and eventually seek out help. Some connect with local community groups and state agencies. Others locate and make arrangements for adult daily caregivers, either at home or away.

Due to monetary constraints, many families opt for more intimate care in a residential house set up to care for four to six elderly residents. These Adult Care Homes are usually someone’s personal residence that is transformed into a business designed to meet the needs of families in search of intimate care and attention for their loved ones. Many of these elder care businesses are run by people who have the patience and skill sets to feed, bathe and properly monitor the emotional and medical needs of our elderly loved ones. Unfortunately, there are also homes and caregivers that only see the elderly as a source for income.

It is important that all of us, and I do mean all of us, to understand the role we all play in this situation. We as family members, need to learn that when we entrust an elderly member of our family to someone else, we must remain vigilant in our effort to follow-up on the level of care they receive. Not just visually, but the under current of what happens unseen on a daily basis. When you visit a home or facility, you need to use all your senses to determine if this location understands the ethical and moral expectations to provide a caring and conscientious environment focused on the needs of your loved one. This includes the emotional, spiritual, mental and physical needs.

And, if you have any concerns, these need to be addressed then and not later. What do you smell? What do you see? What does the kitchen look like, the rooms, the bathrooms? How many residents? Can you contact the other resident families for references? What are the caregivers’ backgrounds?  Do they do background checks on any of the other caregivers working there? It is okay to trust, but verify the information given.

And take the time to go and visit unannounced, often. Check to see if there are any bedsores and what they are doing if they do develop. If the caregiver is in your own home, don’t be afraid to have your home monitored to ensure care. If your loved one suddenly seems nervous or emotionally withdrawn, check into it. Don’t be afraid to contact any of the police departments if you are worried in any way. One of law enforcement’s biggest concerns is that they don’t find out about a serious situation until it is too late. In June of this year, new laws were enacted to help protect victims of elderly abuse.

When we become numb to the plight of our elderly, we become numb to the value of life. While a parent may no longer be a joy to be around, they do not deserve being treated as a commodity. They are still someone we love, but whose physical and sometimes mental abilities have transformed them in our eyes into someone we can no longer relate to or connect with. This is what makes them the most at risk – they can no longer communicate what they are experiencing on a daily basis.

I would like to report that the there are only a minor group of instances where our seniors have become victims of abuse. But this is not the case. More and more of our loved ones, are unnecessarily being harmed by fears of caregivers loosing their reputations and thus loosing income. The Seattle Times investigation revealed that many instances of neglect or abuse remain hidden and not reported to the proper agency.

The adult care homes have suddenly become a business that can be sold as such, with residents included. This business transaction is not any different, than when a hospital is sold and the patients become under new management. Except for when a hospital is merged or purchased, there is a level of transparency expected. When an adult care home is sold or placed on the market with a real estate agency, the residents can be included as part of the asset or value of the home.

So it is important, that when you choose to entrust your loved ones to a facility or residential adult care home, you do your homework. Understand the area, the home and the owners and caregivers. Apply the same level of due diligence to find the right care for an elderly parent as you would with your baby or child. Value age and the vulnerability it brings as you do with youth and its vulnerability.

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