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    Document Summary
    - Report Published -

    Senate Document No. 37

    Document Title
    Financial Exploitation of Older Adults and Disabled Younger Adults in the Commonwealth

    Department of Social Services

    Enabling Authority
    SJR 308 (Regular Session, 1992)

    Executive Summary
    Concerns about the financial victimization of vulnerable adults led the Virginia General Assembly to request the Secretary of Health and Human Resources to study the prevalence and nature of financial exploitation of older adults and disabled younger adults in the Commonwealth. The study was to review the types and numbers of financial exploitation complaints made on behalf of older adults and disabled younger adults and the resolution of those complaints. The study was also to examine both the need for additional statutory authority to protect the rights and welfare of older and disabled younger adults who are the victims of financial exploitation and to study the need to adopt other methods of enhancing their protection.

    Key findings resulted from analyses of surveys completed by banks, sheriffs, area agencies on aging, legal aid offices, and long-term care facilities; a review of Adult Protective Services' (APS) financial exploitation cases; testimony from community forums; and interviews with selected states.

    Risk Factors for Financial Exploitation

    • Vulnerability to financial exploitation is intensified by advanced age and frailty, social isolation and by the inexperience of adults who, late in life, must assume responsibility for their financial affairs for the first time.

    • Relationships exist between many victims and perpetrators. In almost half of the documented cases of exploitation, victims and perpetrators share housing. Victims with this living arrangement continue to be at high risk.

    • The population most vulnerable to financial exploitation will continue to increase during the next 40 years with the increase in the population aged 65 and older.

    Prevalence and Nature of Financial Exploitation

    • During FY 1993, 541 cases of financial exploitation were substantiated through APS investigations.

    • The largest number of financial exploitation victims were persons from 76 to 90 years of age. Most victims suffered a mental incapacity and more than half had physical disabilities. Ninety percent of those who had any impairment had both mental and physical impairments.

    • Most perpetrators of financial exploitation are related to the victim by blood or marriage. Most perpetrators have an ongoing relationship to the victim such as in-home caregiver, both paid and unpaid. In every case studied, perpetrators who were unpaid caregivers were children of the victim. Other perpetrators included staff in long-term care facilities and individuals having victim's power of attorney.

    Recommendation. The General Assembly should request a study of the need for oversight and monitoring of award and utilization of powers of attorney.

    • The devastation of loss is not necessarily related to the value of lost assets. Small losses can be disastrous to individuals whose resources are few and whose ability to recoup what is lost is minimal.

    • The value of resources lost range from more than $300,000 for a few victims to less than $1,000 for most. The loss of resources valued at less than $1,000 is generally through exploitation of cash, checks, or bank accounts, with almost 20 percent of victims having their checks taken at the beginning of the month.

    Prevention and Resolution of Financial Exploitation

    • There is a lack of awareness of financial exploitation among individuals, agencies, institutions and the public. Increased awareness is needed to assist in identifying victims and focus on early intervention.

    Recommendation. The Departments of Social Services and Aging should initiate strategies to increase public awareness of financial exploitation. Pertinent information should be provided to guardians, powers of attorney, representative payees and other substitute decision makers.

    • There is widespread noncompliance with the mandated reporting provisions of Virginia Code 63.1-55.3.

    Recommendation. The Department of Social Services should conduct a public awareness campaign targeting mandated reporters.

    Recommendation. The Department of Social Services should acquire and advertise a toll-free number to receive APS complaints.

    Recommendation. The VDSS should revise its Benefit Programs policy to clarify the intent of the instructions which pertains to victimization by attorneys-in-fact, guardians, and committees. The revised policy should encourage reporting of suspected exploitation.

    • Resolution of cases is made more difficult by the incapacities of victims; the almost insurmountable burden of proving criminal malice in exploitation cases; the lack of access to relevant records and documents; the lack of qualified, available guardians; and the need for increased collaboration in training all professionals involved.

    Recommendation. The General Assembly should consider amending Virginia Code 63.1-55.3 to make essential documents, such as records from financial institutions more readily available when financial exploitation of vulnerable adults is suspected.

    Recommendation. The General Assembly should consider funding a two year pilot project to test the feasibility of a public guardian program for persons who are found, through an APS investigation, to be in need of a guardian and have no other qualified person to serve.

    Recommendation. The Department of Social Services, Commonwealth's Attorneys' Service Council, Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police, and the Virginia Sheriffs Association should collaborate to provide joint training for all staff who investigate complaints of financial exploitation.

    • Several states have enacted legislation which provides criminal sanctions for financial exploitation of vulnerable adults. The effectiveness of these laws is unclear at this time. Education and strengthened civil remedies may provide enhanced protection to vulnerable adults. The 1992 California Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act appears to be the strongest.

    Recommendation. The Virginia Bar Association, in collaboration with the Departments of Social Services and Aging, should study and recommend legislation to the 1995 session of the General Assembly modeled after the 1992 California Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act.