Elder Financial Exploitation

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Each year, hundreds of cases of financial exploitation of older and vulnerable adults are reported in Maryland.  The results can be devastating—emotionally and financially.  This, however, is estimated to be only a fraction of the thousands of cases that go unreported in our state.  Financial exploitation of seniors can be especially devastating because seniors have fewer, if any, years of employment to make up the funds they have lost to scammers and, in far too many cases, family and “friends.”

What is Elder Financial Exploitation?

Elder financial exploitation involves wrongfully taking or using an older adult’s funds or property through theft, scams, fraud, or predatory lending.

What is project SAFE (Stop Adult Financial Exploitation)?

Project SAFE is an informal public/private coalition of 16 different organizations that share a common goal of preventing and remedying financial exploitation of vulnerable adults.  Project SAFE has offered training to the financial and law enforcement communities on how to detect and report financial exploitation.  Project SAFE also educates older Marylanders on how to avoid financial exploitation.  The 16 organizations comprising Project SAFE are: 
Various materials produced by SAFE are available, including: 

Who is at risk of Elder Financial Exploitation?

All elders may be victims of financial exploitation.  Regardless of whether they are rich or poor, undereducated or highly educated, seniors of all races, cultures, and creeds are victimized. Elders are at greater risk for a variety of reasons.  For one thing, exploiters target them because many have accumulated wealth or at least steady incomes from pensions or social security checks.  For another, research has shown that aging generally reduces a person’s ability to distinguish legitimate offers from those that are not.
 

Where and how to report suspected Elder Financial Exploitation?

Anyone may report abuse or neglect, and often the report can be anonymous.  

The following information on reporting is for members of the public.  Health care professionals, social workers, law enforcement officers, employees of licensed health care facilities, and employees of financial institutions have additional, and in some cases mandatory, reporting requirements.

See Project SAFE’s infographic​ on reporting elder financial exploitation.

For a more detailed explanation on reporting, read below:

If you suspect that a senior citizen is being, or is about to be, financially exploited, there are a number of potential places to call for help, including, but not limited to, local police, Adult Protective Services, a private attorney, or any number of government agencies that address particular kinds of scams. 

Follow the steps below to help you decide who to contact for assistance.  
  1. If you believe a crime is in progress or is about to be consummated, e.g., a senior citizen is about to transfer a significant sum of money to a home repair grifter, then call the local police by dialing 911.

  2. Whether or not you call 911, the next step depends on whether the person is vulnerable, i.e., lacks the physical or mental capacity to provide for his or her daily needs.  If the victim lacks the physical or mental capacity to provide for his or her daily needs, call the local Adult Protective Services (APS) office.  There is a local APS office in each county’s Department of Social Services (as well as Baltimore City’s).  You can find the list of offices at http://dhr.maryland.gov/local-offices.  Alternatively, you can call the statewide abuse number to report: 1-800-332-6347.  APS will send out an investigator if it believes the person lacks the capacity to provide for his or her daily needs and is being financially abused. 

    If the potential victim resides in a nursing home, be sure to explain to APS in detail why you suspect financial exploitation because financial exploitation is the only kind of maltreatment that APS investigates in nursing homes.

  3. If you are not sure if the person has a disability severe enough to qualify him or her as lacking the capacity to provide for his or her daily needs, call APS anyway.  APS will make the determination.  There is no penalty or downside to referring someone to APS that APS eventually finds does have the capacity to provide for his or her daily needs.  

  4. If the person has the physical or mental capacity to provide for his or her daily needs, then there are quite a few options for referral depending on the nature of the exploitation, as outlined in subsection 5 below.  

    However, before you make a referral, you may want to try to convince the person that he or she is being exploited so that he or she can stop the exploitation, or report it, or both.  Of course, you may be unable to convince the victim, or you may decide it would be counter-productive to try to convince the victim that he o​r she is being exploited.  Think carefully about reporting without the victim’s consent.  If domestic abuse is also an issue, know that reporting domestic abuse without the consent of the victim can be dangerous to the victim.  
       5. Matters of financial exploitation have many possible referral options:

(a)       If it is tax return fraud, then:

1. If a Maryland tax return, then call Maryland Comptroller at 1-800-638-2937 between 8:30 AM-4:30 PM, Monday through Friday (see https://taxes.marylandtaxes.gov/Individual_Taxes/Taxpayer_Assistance/Identity_Protection/ for more information), and

2. If a federal tax return, contact the IRS at 1-800-829-1040 or refer online to https://www.irs.gov/identity-theft-fraud-scams.

(b)       If it is identity theft, there are many places to contact.  A good place to start is the Maryland Attorney General’s Identity Theft Unit:  http://www.marylandattorneygeneral.gov/Pages/IdentityTheft/default.aspx.

(c)       If it is a mail sweepstakes or other mail-based scam, contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service: http://about.usps.com/publications/pub300a/pub300a_tech_024.htm.

(d)       If it is an Internet- or telephone-based scam, it is often hard to know where to report because the scams are so varied and the perpetrators could be in a country far away.  Here is a valuable federal website that gives reporting tips on many different types of scams: https://www.usa.gov/stop-scams-frauds.

(e)       If you believe the matter is an unfair business practice by a business operating in Maryland, contact the Maryland Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division: http://www.marylandattorneygeneral.gov/Pages/CPD/Complaint.aspx.

(f)        Scams using undue influence by a “new friend,” e.g., romance scams, are particularly difficult to deal with if the person does not believe and cannot be convinced they are being exploited.  Sometimes hiring a private attorney or investigator may be the best route.  A private attorney or investigator may be able to gather enough information to convince the police to open a criminal investigation.

(g)       If the matter concerns insurance products, e.g., annuities or insurance policies sold to inappropriate customers, contact the Maryland Insurance Administration: https://insurance.maryland.gov/consumer/pages/fileacomplaint.aspx.

(h)       If the matter involves home improvements, file a complaint with the Maryland Home Improvement Commission:  https://www.dllr.state.md.us/license/mhic/mhiccomp.shtml.

(i)         If the matter involves the sale of investments, you may file a complaint with the Maryland Securities Division by calling 410-576-7050.  More information is here: http://www.marylandattorneygeneral.gov/Pages/Securities/default.aspx. ​ 

​6. If the exploiter is a family member, caregiver, or neighbor, you may also want to explore the 
        possibility of hiring a private attorney to obtain some relief for the victim.​

What can you do to help keep Maryland’s seniors safe from Elder Financial Exploitation?

  1. Print and hand out, or link to, Project SAFE’s (Stop Adult Financial Exploitation) brochure: Protect Your Money.pdf"Protect Your Money.pdf"

  2. Print and hand out, or link to, “What Account Is Right for You,” which will help seniors avoid entering into joint accounts with inappropriate relatives.

  3. Promote scam alerts.  Examples include the scam alert pages maintained by AARP and the United States Department of Justice's Elder Justice Initiative:
    1. AARP Money: Scam & Frauds
    2. The United States Department of Justice's Elder Justice Initiative: Senior Scam Alert​