Secretary of Aging, Robert Torres

Secretary of Aging, Robert Torres

We’ve all heard the stories about older adults who get their bank accounts cleaned out when they get random phone calls from strangers about a lottery windfall or a grandchild who needs cash fast for bail.

But the reality is that older adults who are financially exploited end up being taken advantage of by those who are nearest and dearest to them – children or grandchildren or friends.

That was one of the findings of a study on the financial exploitation of older adults released Tuesday by the Pennsylvania Department of Aging. It found that 65% of the perpetrators were family members, including adult children, grandchildren and spouses. Only 15% of the perpetrators could be classified as “other,” with remaining categories being taken up by caregivers and friends.

Older adults are “most likely to be exploited by those they love and trust the most,” according to Robert Torres, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Aging. In an online news conference, Torres added that the financial exploitation of older adults is an underreported crime, with only 1 in 10 to 1 in 44 cases being brought to the attention of officials in law enforcement.

The average financial loss per victim is about $40,000, and totaled about $58 million across Pennsylvania in the 2017-18 fiscal year. Along with damaging the well-being of the victims, some of the older adults ended up having to turn to Medicaid for health coverage or they had to receive benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

“No older adult should have to live with a diminished quality of life because they’ve been taken advantage of,” Torres said.

The report also found that most of the victims were female, lived in urban communities, were widowed and lived alone. The average age was 79. Unauthorized bank withdrawals constituted the largest percentage of total loss, followed by scams.

Torres and the administration of Gov. Tom Wolf back legislation that would update the Older Adults Protective Services Act (OAPSA). It would, among other things, expand the number of mandatory reporters, create an intra-agency financial exploitation team and increase prevention education. The state Senate approved a measure that would enact these changes, and a similar measure is pending in the House of Representatives. If the House does not approve the legislation by December, lawmakers will have to start over from scratch, Torres said.

“Our older adults deserve to age with dignity and respect,” Torres said. “The results of this study are eye-opening and alarming.”

Staff Writer

Brad Hundt came to the Observer-Reporter in 1998 after stints at newspapers in Georgia and Michigan. He serves as editorial page editor, and has covered the arts and entertainment and worked as a municipal beat reporter.

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