Financial exploitation can happen to anyone of us, but the elderly are especially vulnerable to such mayhem. How do we prevent elder financial abuse in our communities and promote an ethic of responsibility? We must focus not only on individuals, but also on community institutions - and banks are key players in any effort to protect our seniors from wrongdoing.
Elder financial abuse is a crime that robs Americans of billions every year. According to a survey conducted by the Elder Protection Trust in 2010, around one out of five senior citizens has been or will be a victim of fraud. And still other figures don't leave room for much optimism - the National Adult Protective Services Association states that only about one in fourty-four elders will end up reporting when they've financial exploitation. With such daunting odds in the fight against elder financial abuse, where is the best point to prevent it - or stop it in its tracks - early on?
More revelations continue to pour forth from the Geraldine Webber elder abuse investigation/probate case in Portsmouth, NH. Webber, who died in December of 2012 at age 94, left behind a $2.7 million estate to Portsmouth Police Sgt. Aaron Goodwin, who "befriended" the elderly woman two years prior during a routine patrol of her neighborhood. The trouble is, Webber had already been diagnosed with dementia by their time of her acquaintance with Goodwin. Yet Goodwin proceeded to visit her intensively, even taking her on casino outings, as well "shopping around" through several lawyers to change her will and trust with himself as the new beneficiary in May 2012. Seven months later Webber passed away, and Goodwin inherited her fortune.
As a 42-year veteran officer of New Hampshire's Portsmouth police department, John Connors is serious about his duty to protect the community, and that includes from elder abuse. When his wealthy elderly neighbor Geraldine Webber, already in her nineties, began receiving frequent visits from fellow officer Aaron Goodwin in 2010, Connors sensed something was amiss. His cause for concern was genuine; two weeks after she met Goodwin, Webber told Connors that the younger police officer had fallen in love, would soon leave his wife and children to move in with her, and that she would 'give him everything.'
One of the major reasons why elder abuse is difficult to track is under-reporting: victims of abuse are reluctant to come forward out of fear, shame, or embarrassment. And in ethnic and immigrant communities, this factor is only magnified due to the insular culture of many such groups.
When a bank attempts to pass the buck on elder financial abuse, should it be held accountable for its actions? As reported by the Santa Cruz Sentinel's Jeremy Thomas, a recent case out of Livermore has highlighted just this problem - while underlining the necessity of safeguarding our senior citizens from exploitation.
In many elder abuse cases, the intended beneficiaries of an estate (whether children, spouse, etc.) are shocked to learn that they are to receive nothing from their loved one after they've passed on. The reason? At a certain point before their death, the ailing decedent was unduly influenced by another party to change their will or trust, thereby transferring assets - sometimes a financial necessity - away from the original intended inheritors.