Susan Staples, Coordinator for the Coalition Against Later Life Abuse (CALLA), recently addressed a standing room only crowd at the public library for a forum entitled “Combating Elder Financial Exploitation in New Hampshire.” One of the first things Staples did was to ask the audience of bankers, veterans administrators, law enforcement officers and health care workers for a show of hands from anyone who knew an older person who’d been the victim of financial exploitation. Not surprisingly, almost every hand in the room went up.
Among the audience members were Rockingham County Attorney Patricia Conway, Portsmouth Community Police Officer Rochelle Jones and Portsmouth’s Deputy Fire Chief James Heinz. “New Hampshire is the fourth oldest state in the nation and by 2025 that will double,” Staples said. “The expectation is that financial exploitation will be rampant and it affects everyone. “Staples said older people are targets because “they have the money and it’s all about the money.” According to Staples, 75 to 80 percent of elder financial exploitation cases involve perpetrators the victims knew and trusted. They forge signatures, run up credit cards, take cash and convince older people to sign over deeds to their homes, Staples said. “You cannot spend someone else’s money for your own benefit,” she said, while reminding about a new state law that makes it a felony to financially exploit anyone over the age of 60, or a disabled person.
According to Staples, who has been traveling the state to talk about the problem of elder financial exploitation, the challenges to preventing the abuse include victims who are reluctant to report the crime, a lack of awareness by the public and weaknesses in systems that include banks, police departments, courts and elder service providers. She applauded the state attorney general’s office for obtaining a grant to form a state elder abuse unit now comprised of an investigator, prosecutor and a victim advocate. Conway commended the new state unit, while reminding the audience that it only has one attorney and her office has 19 prosecutors. “So we’re very capable of prosecuting these cases,” Conway said. “Law enforcement can call my office anytime.”
Audience members spoke out about cases of elder financial exploitation of which they are aware, including:
- A local bank professional said she’s aware of an ongoing Seacoast case involving two victims. She said the attorney general’s office is handling that case which, she said, “mushroomed” into an investigation involving victims in other states and two out-of-state perpetrators.
- A geriatric health care provider said she said knew of an elder financial exploitation case, but felt restrained from reporting it because of federal health privacy laws. Jones said people can report suspected crimes to police anonymously, so confidentiality isn’t breached and police can “at least get some eyes in the house” to investigate. The Portsmouth officer said police investigators like herself will also welcome informal meetings to gather information.
Lisa Tyler, a social worker for the Bureau of Elder and Adult Services, said it would help if financial institutions provided her office records free from banking “jargon” that would make it easier for her office to investigate complaints.
Another possible way to stop financial exploitation of older and disabled people, said Staples, is through the media, including public service announcements on television and the radio. She said the state of Maine has initiated that program and New Hampshire should follow suit.
What is likely the largest case of elder financial exploitation in New Hampshire — the undue influence by former police Sgt. Aaron Goodwin against the late Geraldine Webber — occurred in Portsmouth. Jones said she worked on a different case involving lifetime Portsmouth residents who were financially exploited by a caregiver. She said her investigation did not end with an arrest, but she was able to get no-contact orders in place, find new services for the residents, one with dementia, and “stayed available for them for the next couple of years.”
Staples said the new law criminalizing financial exploitation has New Hampshire “leading the nation.” “But we know there’s a lot more work to do,” she said. “This is probably not going to go away and when it happens, it’s devastating.”
If you are concerned that an elderly loved one is being financially exploited, or abused in any way, contact law enforcement authorities and then contact an experienced elder law attorney.
If you have additional questions or concerns regarding elder abuse and neglect, contact the experienced New Hampshire elder law attorneys at Debruyckere Law Offices by calling (603) 894-4141 or (978) 969-0331 to schedule an appointment.