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Can a person stoop much lower than stealing a lifetime's earnings from an older Pennsylvanian? It's despicable and all too common, and shockingly, it's a crime often committed by so called "loved ones" of the victim. Learn more about financial elder abuse, and how to spot it and stop it, tonight at 8 on Smart Talk.
America's recession has brought out the worst in thieves and there is no victim they like more than gullible, vulnerable, affluent senior citizens. "They have been open game for caregivers, family members, and con artists in general," says Ron Costen, Ph.D., a former assistant district attorney in Lackawanna County and a former state deputy attorney general. For more than 20 years, Ron has investigated abuse perpetrated against the elderly and disabled Pennsylvanians.
I ran into Ron socially in Hershey recently and he suggested Smart Talk delve into the financial abuse of the elderly. Yes, it's an age-old crime but, he notes, "It's become rampant. With the economy going down the tubes, it's like Jesse James was asked, Why do you rob the banks?' And he said, Because that's where the money is.' Older people in Pennsylvania represent the most well-off age bracket. Older folks have had a long time to accumulate real estate, savings, C.D.s, bonds, and they often use banks. And banks are easy to get at because they only require one signature. It's easy to forge the signature or trick the senior citizen to sign it over to you and they're not even aware of it."
Getting financial institutions, protective-services agencies, nursing homes and law enforcement to see financial abuse as a crime sometimes can be difficult. "One of the issues ... to address is the theft of assets from older adults. Pennsylvania's response is a mixed bag, as the testimony I gave to the (state) House some weeks back addresses. What I did not address in that testimony, but is as real a problem as inadequate investigative resources, is that many police and DA's offices do not see theft by using a power-of-attorney document as a theft. Police will often turn away complainants telling them that it is either "a family matter" or a "civil matter" but in any regard it is certainly not a police matter. We are trying to change that with training of police and the DA's offices."
Too often, he says, police believe the power-of-attorney document gives the designated agent "carte blanche" to deal with the person's finances. Costen now teaches social work at Temple University. He also directs the state Department of Aging's Institute on Protective Services at Temple's Harrisburg campus which trains and assists agency personnel and local law enforcers to investigate and prosecute financial-abuse cases. He runs task forces in 31 counties. Smaller police departments generally don't employ detectives, nor have the resources and expertise to uncover complex, sophisticated scams. Many con artists use the Internet and multiple banks and accounts as subterfuge. A former banking executive works for Costen and helps ferret out fraud in questionable and complex financial dealings.
Also joining our discussion are Mary Bach, chair of AARP Pennsylvania's Consumer Issues Task Force who personally confronted a scammer in her own home, and Denise Getgen, chief of the Consumer Protection Division at the PA Department of Aging. They are ready to take your questions and comments about elder financial abuse. You can call live tonight at 8 to 1-800-729-7532, post a comment below or to witf's Facebook page, or email us at email@example.com.
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