Oregon study targets financial exploitation of elderly

Losses in millions; more than half committed by family members

SALEM, Ore. - A comprehensive study of elder financial exploitation in Oregon has been completed -- the first that paints a full, disturbing picture of financial abuse of Oregon seniors, officials said Tuesday.

The study of over 400 cases in 2011 was conducted through the Department of Human Services Office of Adult Abuse Prevention and Investigations.

"Financial exploitation of individuals over the age of 65 and with physical disabilities is the most commonly investigated type of abuse that community adult protective services addresses in Oregon," said Marie Cervantes, director of OAAPI. "By having all the facts in front of us, we are able to see trends and methods. This will help us to be able to come up with better prevention and education strategies."

Cervantes added that not only is financial abuse common, but it often goes hand-in-hand with other types of abuse such as neglect of care, verbal or emotional abuse.

"For many of our vulnerable adults that are exploited, this can mean years of hard work, money to pay basic living essentials such as food and electricity, and hopes for their future security are gone," she said. "Collectively, the financial exploitation of vulnerable adults deserves our attention."

Rebecca Fetters, who conducted the study, said Adult Protective Services told NewsChannel 21 the agency investigated nearly 2,800 cases of financial exploitation in 2011 (available not to just those over 65 but those over 18 with a physical disability).

Of the 2,782 cases, 757 were substantiated through investigations, Fetters said.

While "the cost is nearly impossible to quantify for many, many reasons," Fetters said, of the 419 cases she reviewed, 117 were substantiated with a total known to be taken of over $1.85 million.

"However, this is a gross underestimate of actual loss," she added. "Many cases did not include specific dollar amounts, many cases could only substantiate a fraction of what was probably actually taken, and this does not take into account the long-term cost of people (who)  then need to access the Medicaid or other publicly funded services as a result of their loss."

The study also revealed that financial exploitation in Oregon takes many forms, not just money. This includes the theft of medications, jewelry, vehicles, real estate, food stamp benefits, ATM cards and personal property.  

Also included in this study are cases in which undue influence was exerted on a victim to alter their estate plan, cases in which their identity was stolen for the purposes of obtaining credit, and cases involving high level, professional, international scams.

The sample for this study consisted of 78% individuals over the age of 65, and 22% individuals between the ages of 18 - 64 with a physical disability.    
The oldest victim in the study was 102, with the youngest being 24.

The research showed that the major perpetrators of financial exploitation in Oregon are family members. This includes spouses, children, siblings, and grandchildren.  Daughters were slightly more prevalent than sons.

Family relationships accounted for 55 percent of all alleged perpetrators. Beyond family members, the second most common type of alleged perpetrator was acquaintances, followed closely by non-relative caregivers.

The study also examined the frequency at which law enforcement was involved with adult protective services. Valuable forms of evidence were available to investigators regarding individuals who acted in fiduciary capacities and breached their duties.

All of Oregon's counties were represented in this study; however, certain counties had disproportionately higher rates of financial exploitation than others (based upon their population). These counties were: Tillamook, Clatsop, Multnomah, Douglas, Coos, Curry, Clackamas, Josephine, Jackson, Douglas, Grant, Harney, Malheur and Columbia.

The results of this study, and particularly the regional data, will be used to identify targeted areas of need throughout the state and to provide training and technical assistance to those areas.

To view the study in its entirety, go to: http://www.oregon.gov/dhs/abuse/Documents/2012_OAAPI_Financial_Exploitation_Data_Book.pdf .

To view the 2012 OAAPI annual report on elder and vulnerable populations' abuse, go to: http://www.oregon.gov/dhs/abuse/Documents/OAAPI%20Annual%20Report%202012.pdf

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