Elder Abuse: Part 2

By KBJR News 1

May 24, 2012 Updated May 24, 2012 at 9:41 AM CDT

Senior citizens are fast becoming the single most targeted group for crime.

As the over 65 population grows so do the cases of Alzheimer's and Dementia, making this group of citizens particularly vulnerable.

They saved throughout their lives and when they retire seniors often have quite a nest egg. That can make them attractive targets.

"What we're seeing a lot is the elders being abused through the property and financial crimes and financial exploitation," says Sergeant Chad Nagorski of the Duluth Police Department.

Often the perpetrators are family members or people in a position of trust.

Last July, for example, retired Duluth police officer Timothy Campbell was sentenced to jail for stealing more than a hundred-thousand dollars from his own mother who had dementia.

The crime led to a change in Minnesota law.

"When the actor has reason to know that an individual suffers a demented condition that consent is no longer a defense," says Iris Freeman of the Center on Elder Justice.

But financial exploitation of the elderly is often a tough case to prosecute for a number of reasons. First it can be hard to spot.

"Especially in home bound cases, the people are so cut off from any kind of spotting, any kind of case identification, any kind of reporting, that we, in effect, don't know what's going on, or the magnitude of what's going on," says Freeman.

Complicating the situation is the perpetrator is often a family member.

"Often times the seniors that are being exploited don't want to turn their son, or daughter, or grandson in," says the Minnesota Ombudsman for Long Term Care, Deb Holtz.

"They don't want to get any of their family members in trouble so they don't want to cooperate in this investigation," says Nagorski.

One big problem, the experts say, is there are not enough checks and balances on the system of power of attorney.

"It's mockingly called a license to steal," says Holtz.

Seniors will often appoint someone to take care of their finances when they find themselves not as sharp as they once were. But if that person takes advantage of the situation experts say there's often not much they can do.

"Many times the family doesn't know about it until it's too late because the money's been spent and there's no way to stop it," says Nagorski.

Another group that sees seniors as easy targets is scam artists.

"Scams that target seniors are at an all- time high. And they actually have nicknames for some of them, as the grandparent scam," says Ashley Haglin of Lutheran Social Services. "The scams are focused on seniors because they're looked on as having money, access to funds, that can be exploited."

Experts say community members are key in stopping elder abuse of all types and are encouraged to report suspected abuse. The Minnesota Ombudsman for Long-Term Care says there are warning signs.

For physical abuse they say watch for dramatic personality or behavior changes, unexplained injuries or broken eyeglasses.

For financial exploitation look for significant withdrawals from an elder's bank accounts, sudden changes in financial conditions or items or cash missing from a senior's household.

If you, or someone you know, may be suffering abuse you can call county social services or you can call police.

If you're not sure who to call, there is one place that will find the correct people to help you.

The senior linkage line is the Minnesota Board on Aging's free statewide information and assistance service and can be called 24 hours a day.