HARRISBURG, Pa. (Erie News Now) – According to the Pennsylvania Department of Aging, financial exploitation ranks in the top three types of elder abuse. Now, state officials are ramping up efforts to fight it.
“Elder abuse is a problem that has increased over the years in Pennsylvania, and one of the fastest growing types of elder abuse has been financial exploitation. Perpetrators of financial exploitation have many faces, and sadly, many of them are faces that older adults know and trust,” said Secretary of Aging Robert Torres. “A person of trust can be well-positioned to commit crimes such as property theft, misuse of income or assets, or misuse of a Power of Attorney. Then there are threats posed by strangers – scams of many types including medical, contractor, grandchild impostor emergencies, Social Security or IRS, fake charities, gift card scams, pension poaching and more,” Torres added.
According to the FBI, Pennsylvania scam victims over the age of 60 lost over $77 million in 2021, which is more than three-times the amount reported in 2020.
Pennsylvania has 52 different Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs), which have been fighting financial exploitation of seniors for years. A new unit is tapping into that fight to protect Pennsylvania’s most vulnerable. The unit, known as the Financial Abuse Specialist Team (FAST), will help AAAs investigate complex financial exploitation cases and ultimately bring justice.
“FAST” is modeled after a pilot program where the department hired a retired State Trooper to assist Pennsylvania AAAs with financial fraud investigation. The pilot program was launched in 2020 and officials say it’s time to expand it.
“Based on a sample of 22 cases where we exercised enhanced coordination and early intervention, nearly $3 million in assets were able to be protected from further exploitation. During the pilot program period, 154 cases were identified and flagged for follow up of what we would call ‘potential exploitation’ of $8.5 million,” said Torres.
Secretary Torres said former State Trooper David Aiello’s expertise in investigating financial exploitation and forensics have proven to be critical in the fight to protect seniors.
“Given these results, we decided to expand this model and build more capacity to better support AAAs on these cases and get the justice that victims deserve,” said Torres. “This FAST unit will be available to assist in both investigating and resolving financial exploitation cases. It will also work on building or strengthening relationships with law enforcement to achieve justice for older adult victims and to mitigate damages as quickly as possible,” Torres added.
The Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA) says the new team will especially help protect Pennsylvania veterans, who are also seeing an increase in financial exploitation.
“There are nearly 800,000 veterans in Pennsylvania. Many of these veterans are also senior citizens, and much to my dismay, our older vets, who are often also disabled, are prime targets for scammers,” said Major General Mark Schindler, Adjutant General of Pennsylvania. “Scamming is an insidious problem that is increasing at an alarming rate. According to Federal Trade Commission data, veteran and military losses from scams more than doubled from 2020 to 2021,” said General Schindler.
General Schindler says “Pension Poaching” is a major contributing factor to the increase in veteran scams.
“Pension poaching is a financial scam that targets veterans, survivors and their families. These individuals are targeted by criminals who charge veterans and their beneficiaries for help in applying for, and submitting, applications for VA pensions,” said General Schindler, who added that those services are cost-free for PA veterans.
The Department of Aging recently unveiled a financial exploitation webpage that features information for older adults, caregivers and other aging professionals on warning signs, preventive measures, and resources on key topics such as banking and finance, legal services and dementia.
The Department of Aging says anyone suspecting elder abuse should call the statewide reporting hotline at 1-800-490-8505, which operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.