Photo courtesy Oregon Department of Justice
I’m not being morbid when I tell my husband that when it’s time to go, I get to leave first. It’s no secret I’d be lost without him. He knows all our online passwords.
I admit to not looking forward to being an elderly person. Being as old as I am is hard enough. I dread outliving our money or being a burden to my son. Also elder abuse is on the rise. According to information gleaned from the second annual Attorney General Rosenblum’s Elder Abuse Conference held Oct. 26 at the Seaside Civic and Convention Center, last year in Oregon 35,800 crimes against seniors were reported. For every crime reported, 14 more aren’t.
When I hear the words “elder abuse,” I think about helpless, frightened, old people, reduced to eating cat food. But elder abuse these days is most likely to be financial. The average Oregonian can expect to live about 84 years. Things look pretty good for most folks until the last five. That’s when older people are most likely to have their bank accounts emptied by their own family members to whom they’ve given power of attorney. These are also the years older people are most likely to be targeted and exploited by scammers using lottery schemes, construction scams, even scam dating sites. The majority of elder abuse victims are women between the ages of 80 and 90. Who are their abusers? 40 percent of them are women. And 66 percent of elder abuse takes place in the victim’s own home.
We all know or are related to someone who is very old. Some of these folks are fairly self-sufficient and live alone. These are the people most likely to be taken in by phone scams. Criminals who prey on older people often start with a cold call. They tell their victim they’ve won a lottery, or a gift card. They pretend to be the IRS, or even police, invoking an imaginary warrant. Some come to the door on a phony welfare check. There are ghost cab scams. One of the saddest and most prevalent scams are the so-called “sweetheart” scams that woo and entrap vulnerable older women eager for one last shot at romance.
At the conference, most of the attendees worked in law enforcement. They came from all over the state to attend workshops on how to secure medical and financial records; dealing with cognitive issues in victims and witnesses; crime scene forensics; how to investigate and gather evidence in domestic violence cases; how to assess and document physical indicators of intentional abuse; workshops on how to build their cases.
I don’t know if you’ve ever watched the Law & Order TV series, “Special Victims Unit,” but it struck me that the attorney general’s elder abuse unit is a real life special victims unit. There is one permanent, full-time, elder abuse resource prosecutor, and two permanent full-time investigators. Many police departments in Oregon don’t have the resources to have their own detective or investigator. The Elder Abuse Unit is important because it increases the capacity to stop elder abuse by providing training, technical assistance, and legal expertise to district attorneys, law enforcement, basically anyone working with older Oregonians.
Art Linkletter once famously said, “Old age is not for sissies.” Or maybe Bette Davis said it. Besides losing their eyesight, hearing, stamina, and mobility, advanced seniors shouldn’t have to fear from their own family members and caregivers, or be targeted by heartless financial schemers who see them as easy prey. Statistics tell us that one in 10 elderly people will be victims. Do what you can to make sure you or someone you love isn’t one of them.