Tuesday, June 15, 2021, is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD). This program was launched on June 15, 2006 by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization at the United Nations. The purpose of WEAAD is to provide an opportunity for communities around the world to promote a better understanding of abuse and neglect of older persons by raising awareness of the cultural, social, economic and demographic processes affecting elder abuse and neglect.
Elder abuse can be a single act, repeated acts or a failure to act within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person.
In this article, the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services’ Adult Protective Services division, the Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection and the Office of the State’s Attorney for Montgomery County’s Crimes Against Seniors and Vulnerable Adults unit provide some useful tips on what to watch out for and how to help your older friends and family members.
The Montgomery County Adult Protective Services (APS) program, like its counterpart in other jurisdictions, investigates and provides services to vulnerable adults 18 years of age and older who are at risk of abuse, neglect, self-neglect and financial exploitation. Licensed clinical social workers and nurses will assess a client’s situation, then assist them and their families as appropriate in setting up a safety plan. Our most common situation involves self-neglect, where an individual who may have had a stroke, increased forgetfulness or dementia or another medical challenge is unable to fully attend to their daily personal care needs and well-being. APS can assist with accessing needed community supports and medical attention or help plan for a more supportive living environment.
When elder abuse occurs (the intentional or neglectful acts by a caregiver, family member or trusted individual that leads to, or may lead to, harm of a vulnerable adult), APS will both investigate and work with its partners in the community, as well as law enforcement to reduce this person’s risk.
Signs to look for (Red Flags of Abuse) include a lack of basic hygiene, someone with dementia left unattended or wandering, unexplained bruises or isolation. If you see something, we ask that you say something by calling our professional screeners at 240-777-3000, or if you are outside Montgomery County contact Adult Protective Services in your jurisdiction (see sidebar). All referral sources to APS are confidential.
The Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection, like similar consumer protection agencies in other jurisdictions, works on protecting consumers from unfair or deceptive trade practices and outright fraud.
One main form of rampant pervasive fraud aimed at seniors is phone and cyber scams. These scams not only adapted to the pandemic, they thrived. According to the FBI, common scams aimed at seniors are romance, tech support, grandparent, government or utility imposter, sweepstakes/lottery/charity and home repair scams.
- Romance scams have thrived during the pandemic as seniors have been isolated and excuses for why the love interest can’t meet in person are more acceptable.
- Grandparent scams often begin when an older person is contacted by a criminal who poses as a panicked grandchild in need of thousands of dollars quickly for an emergency, such as a hospital bill or bail money.
- Imposters can come in many forms. They can pose as the Social Security Administration, the IRS, local police or a utility. These imposters either warn or threaten some cutoff, or arrest, with a demand for personal information or money.
- Sweepstakes and lottery winnings, complete with a fake check for “taxes” for you to deposit, have increased. The checks will bounce while your good check paying the taxes after you deposit them will be lost.
- Charities scams come in the form of non-existent charities or bogus PACs pretending to be charities. Check with your Secretary of State to make sure the charity is listed, and research them though Charity Navigator, Guidestar, Give.org or Charity Watch.
- Home Repair scams escalate between spring and fall. Unlicensed home improvement contractors and landscapers show up at your door, especially after a storm, offering amazing prices for a deposit, and never return.
One good rule of thumb, especially during the pandemic, is the 20 second rule: if you spend 20 seconds washing your hands, spend at least that amount of time thinking about, or better yet even discussing with a trusted individual, whether the call or email is legitimate. Scammers want to engage emotions to disengage the brain.
The Crimes Against Seniors and Vulnerable Adults (CASVA) unit within the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office began in 2014 when it saw an increase in the senior population and an unfortunate increase in crimes that targeted them.
This specialized unit is comprised of lawyers who are cross-trained in handling financial exploitation, as well as abuse and neglect of vulnerable adults. In many cases, there are multiple crimes perpetrated against the victim with financial exploitation cases being our highest referred type of crime.
Since 2014, CASVA has conducted more than 350 investigations resulting in more than 300 prosecutions. The CASVA unit also hosts a monthly task force meeting called the Elder and Vulnerable Adult Abuse Task Force where multiple government agencies join forces to discuss complex cases.
Scams aside, it’s important to note that the perpetrator in elder abuse, neglect or financial exploitation cases is more often than not a family member or trusted friend or caregiver. The senior is also not usually the one reporting the abuse due to feelings of shame or denial. All types of elder abuse crimes are underreported with some studies estimating that only one in 24 cases of abuse or neglect are disclosed. The statistics on financial exploitation cases not being reported are even higher.
The community plays a large part in protecting our seniors and vulnerable adults.
Isolation is a red flag seen in the majority of the cases, with the perpetrators trying to keep friends and loved ones away from the senior. Remember to check in with one another and if you have any concerns, you can make an anonymous report to Adult Protective Services in your county or municipality.
WEAAD programs and webinars will be provided virtually this year the week of June 14, 2021.
The week will begin on Monday with the National Adult Protective Services Association, in partnership with the National Center of Victims of Crime, sponsoring the Seventh Global Summit where national policy makers, advocates, financial services institutions and social service agencies will present on current trends (firstname.lastname@example.org). Our Montgomery County Elder/Vulnerable Adult Abuse Task force will follow up, working closely with the Montgomery County Recreation Department and the non-profit ElderSAFE, to provide one-hour virtual classes on warning signs, services and preventive strategies over the course of the remainder of the week.
- Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services, Aging and Disability Services, Maryland Access Point: 240-777-7000 ADS@montgomerycountymd.gov
- For help on consumer issues or disputes arising in Montgomery County, contact OCP at email@example.com
- Crimes Against Seniors and Vulnerable Adults (CASVA) Unit Program Manager – Kelly Davis, 240-777-7316, Kelly.firstname.lastname@example.org
- Prince George’s County Department of Social Services, princegeorgescountymd.gov/1642/Adult-Resources
- DC Department of Aging and Community Living, Adult Protective Services, dacl.dc.gov/service/adult-protective-services-0
- Arlington County Department of Human Services, Aging and Disability Services, Adult Protective Services aging-disability.arlingtonva.us/programs/aps/
- Loudoun County Health and Human Services, Adult Protective Services, loudoun.gov/985/Adult-Protective-Services
- Fairfax County Department of Family Services – Older Adults, Adult Protective Services, fairfaxcounty.gov/familyservices/older-adults/adult-protective-services
- City of Alexandria, Division of Aging and Adult Services, Adult Protective Services, alexandriava.gov/dchs/adultservices