Abuse. Neglect. Exploitation. When first hearing these words your mind might immediately jump to seniors who are physically hurt. In the nursing home, that usually means broken bones suffered in a fall, complications from bed sores, and a thousand other possible harms. Seniors have frail bodies and are often in poor health, and so even minimal maltreatment can be a matter of life and death.
But it is important not to focus entirely on physical harm. Seniors can be taken advantage of in many other ways that don’t necessarily result in outward scars. The damage may affect their bank accounts.
Financial exploitation of the elderly remains a mammoth problem. Chances are that almost everyone knows of a senior who has been hurt in this way–though much of the financial exploitation goes unreported.
Breach of Trust
A tragic aspect of all elder abuse is that it is frequently rooted in relationships of trust. For example, nursing home residents are entirely dependent on their caregivers for everything from eating to bathing. The trust placed in the caregiver is immense. But it is violated day in and day out in Illinois and across the country.
The same breach of trust is at play in most cases of elder financial exploitation. In-depth studies of the problem point out that most of the perpetrators are family members. Adult children, grandchildren, and others often work their way into the senior’s life and use their position to enrich themselves. Frequently under the guise of “helping” the senior, the wrongdoer will gain access to credit cards, bank accounts, and other assets. When not unchecked, the senior may lose everything that they spent their life saving.
Inflated Dental Payments
The perpetrators are not only family members. Others in trusting relationship can act in the same manner. For example, U-T San Diego News reported last week on criminal charges filed against a dentist (and his wife) for elder abuse.
According to the report, the dentist had many elderly individuals who used the services at his office. Many of the clients were in their 90s and had visited the doctor for years. His wife acted as the office manage. Conspiring together, the pair were bent on exploiting their clients in order to pad their bank accounts. The exploitation was brazenly simple–they overcharged client credit cards.
Authorities alleged that the couple added hundred or thousands of dollars onto bills given to senior clients. For example, if a regular visit cost $450, the client may have been billed $1,450. Because of their age and trust in the doctor, these overpayments went unnoticed for a time. Eventually, however, the ruse was up. Complaints were made about overpayments. In 2012 alone, the credit card processing company claims that there were more than $260,000 in disputed charges.
The couple plead guilty in June to various charges of elder abuse and identity theft. They have been in jail since they were arrested in March and will likely remain in jail for a few more months before being released on probation.
Sadly, as usual happens in these exploitation cases, it is unclear if the seniors will get much of their money back. Some of the couple’s pricey assets may be sold as restitution, but the recovered funds will undoubtedly be much smaller than the total taken.
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