Published : Thursday, March 21, 2019 | 4:40 AM
The term “elder abuse” conjures images of bruised, undernourished or neglected senior citizens, but the type that most affects Pasadena’s golden agers is financial in stripe.
There’s been an increase in financial abuse of the elderly, but not in physical abuse, said Sergeant Carolyn Gordon, Special Victims Unit, Pasadena Police Department.
Elder abuse is on the rise in Pasadena because of the city’s high number of older adults, according to Akila Gibbs, executive director, Pasadena Senior Center.
“My experience is that elder abuse occurs through family and it happens in several ways,” said Gibbs.
Physical abuse can occur, she said, when a spouse or family member is providing the caregiving and the person being cared for suffers from cognitive impairment or poor brain performance.
“The family member is in over their head,” she said, “so we’ve seen abuse coming from that.”
Gibbs said she has seen fiduciary elder abuse where a child is misusing a parent’s funds thanks to their legal power over the estate.
She recalled one case where she had to refer a woman to protective services because her son was taking her money, and she was afraid of him.
Another variety of fiduciary abuse occurs when a caregiver from outside the home gains the trust of the patient, obtains access to their finances, and uses it to enrich themselves.
“If you’re older,” said Gibbs, “there’s some chance you have either equity in your house, or you have some funds, and family is probably the number one abuser. They’ll start taking their parents’ assets.”
Sergeant Derrick Carter, Financial Crimes Unit, Pasadena Police Department, said squatters know how to identify houses unoccupied by an elderly person who is ill or incapacitated. They target them.
Once found, the squatters often take up residence, after rifling through the victim’s paperwork. The victim will begin receiving charges for expenses they know nothing about, inexplicable changes to their financial accounts, and so forth.
“Squatters can gain access to all that,” Carter said.
There are also lots of “sweetheart” scams that target the elderly, their savings, their Social Security checks, said Gibbs.
“We had a woman who gave away $50,000 to some guy she never met,” Gibbs explained. “The family called us and asked how they could get the money back. But there’s nothing we can do.”
Sergeant Con Pham handles fraud for the Pasadena Police Department, and he agrees.
“The fraud against elderly people we often see involves scams and real estate fraud,” he said, “either by a family member or somebody [the elderly person] trusts who steals their property by forging documents, or doing a quick claim, or using their senility to get them to an attorney to do the fraud paperwork.”
Remedying the situation can be difficult for two reasons: victims don’t want to report a family member; and they don’t want to view themselves as victims.
“They don’t like to report it,” said Gibbs. “They don’t want to get their son in trouble, their daughter in trouble.”
The psychology of the abused elder does not work in their favor.
“They don’t like to call it elder abuse,” she continued. “They just feel like they were ripped off because they’re not as swift as they used to be. They don’t want to be considered abused.”
Police are typically made aware of sketchy circumstances by a phone call from a family member.
According to Carter, the first step is to get the victim a public guardian.
“By the time we get the case, the damage is already done,” he said. “You have to stop the bleeding from the debt. They are being fed on by vultures. That is the best way I can put it.”
Once the victim is a bit more secure, the police can turn to the pursuit of the fraudster.
“It can be a little complicated, but there’s always going to be a paper trail,” Carter observed. “You just follow the breadcrumbs.”