The Star-News


Financial elder abuse getting old

Sun, Jul 03 2011 12:00 PM Posted By: Tom Basinski

As a young patrolman in Flint, Mich., I had to go to the morgue to deliver an item to the pathologist. He was performing an autopsy on an old man while talking to a homicide detective.

The doc spoke with a thick foreign accent, but his command of American profanity would have made any sailor proud. He was angry.

The doc told the detective to put the squeeze on the dead man’s son and not be gentle. The doctor’s descriptors of the son delivered with the doc’s eastern European accent were actually comical.

Apparently the son had been knocking the old guy around, as evidenced by the bruises, none of which were sufficient to cause death. But the beatings didn’t help the old timer’s health.

At the time I thought “elder abuse” was only physical. Over the years the term still relates to physical abuse and/or neglect.

But the majority of elder abuse cases today involve financial trickery, scams and taking advantage of elderly and vulnerable people.

Years ago the San Diego district attorney formed one of the first elder abuse units in the nation.

Headed up by Deputy D.A. Paul Greenwood, a well-respected guru of elder abuse, Greenwood has built the unit from the ground up. San Diego is a national model for prosecuting cases of elder abuse.

Two veteran CVPD detectives, Matt Smith and David Padilla, handle elder financial abuse cases. In talking with them, one can see they are on a mission; their assignment is not merely a job. Their passion is evident.

Their knowledge is admirable. If an elder suffers physical harm, the enforcement falls to the crimes of violence detectives.

And the abuse isn’t confined to the elderly. Any adult who is dependent, for whatever reason — mental or physical — will qualify as an abuse victim, whether the abuse is financial or physical.

The suspects in the financial cases are people the victims trust. A suspect could be a family member, a caregiver, or someone who knocks on the door and somehow secures the trust of the victim.

In other cases, skilled con artists have used the telephone to hoodwink the elderly into believing the victim should provide money or bank access to the suspects.

Detectives Smith and Padilla say the elderly are vulnerable victims for a variety of reasons.

Seniors, for the most part, are trusting people. Many are lonely and have limited social interaction. If someone pays attention to them, the victims are appreciative.

Years ago most cases were not discovered until well after the bank accounts had been cleaned out. If a suspect was arrested, restitution was mostly nonexistent because the suspects had blown the money on gambling or other things that could not be used as restitution.

In today’s climate, banks and financial institutions are on board in the area of detecting financial abuse of the elderly in its early stages. The police and district attorney conduct training sessions to alert tellers what to look for in financial elder abuse.

While banks generally do a creditable job of stopping elder financial abuse, sometimes a teller will fall asleep at the switch.

Recently an elderly Carlsbad woman received a phone call from someone purporting to be her grandson in Los Angeles. (She had a grandson in LA.) The “grandson” told her he had been in an accident where he had injured a Chinese national visiting LA and asked her to wire money to China so he could avoid getting in trouble.

The lady went to the bank and the teller actually assisted her in wiring $120,000 to China.

Good grief. Greenwood was apoplectic when telling me this story. The mere presence of an elderly person wiring money to a foreign country should have been a red flag for the teller.

Tellers can’t worry about possibly incurring the temporary wrath of an elder who wants to withdraw a large sum of money or wire a large sum of money someplace. All the teller has to do is call a supervisor, explain the problem, and check out the story before permanent damage is done.

We have to look out for our elderly.

We must help protect them.

Tom Basinski’s column runs the first and third Friday of the month.


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