Seniors get help fighting fraud

Elder abuse can take many forms, and in Laguna Beach seniors have a variety of groups ready to offer assistance to fight off those who mean to do harm.

The few instances of elder abuse reported in Laguna have trended toward tricking people out of their money, according to police statistics.

"They are becoming less neglect-related and more of a financial-fraud situation," Capt. Jason Kravetz said in an email. "[An example] is the person who calls from Africa and tells the elderly person to send money via Western Union or something bad will happen to them."

Reports of alleged elder abuse in the city increased to eight in 2013 compared with two in 2008, Kravetz said.

The eight reports were three more than in 2012, according to statistics for the city, where more than 4,000 residents 65 and older account for 18% of the total population, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.

Experts and community groups are working to determine how these incidents occur and on ways to avoid them.

Laguna Beach police occasionally hold classes at the The Susi Q community center, especially in response to some new scam being perpetrated, Kravetz said.

In addition to financial scams, seniors are vulnerable to neglect, either self-neglect or from a caretaker, said Jeanine Edmond, Laguna Beach Seniors program director.

"Many times an increase in isolation is a factor [for potential abuse]," Edmond said.

Laguna Beach Seniors offers classes and activities that foster interaction among seniors, along with counseling appointments, while researchers at UC Irvine are identifying risk factors and tips on how a person can avoid becoming a victim of abuse.

At the community center, seniors can make free appointments three days per week (Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays) to speak with a case manager. The center also provides 10 free sessions dedicated to patients with mental health issues called "Feeling the Blues," which is one-on-one counseling with a trained therapist.

Services are open to seniors from Laguna Beach and other South County cities.

A nurse from the county also visits the center once a month for free one-on-one appointments with seniors. The nurse provides health assessments, screenings and referrals and tracks ongoing problems with physical or emotional ailments, Edmond said.

In Orange County, more than 800 reports of elder abuse and neglect occur each month, according to Kerry Burnight, a professor in the division of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology and director of the UCI School of Medicine's Elder Abuse Forensic Center.

Studies have shown that as many as 1 in 10 older adults is a victim of elder abuse in the U.S., and this number increases to 1 in 2 for those with dementia, according to Ageless Alliance, a national elder-abuse awareness and social-justice movement based at UC Irvine.

On top of that, she said, for every one report in the U.S., 23 cases of elder abuse go unreported.

"The scope is quite shocking," Burnight said.

The Orange County Social Services Agency groups elder abuse into four categories: physical abuse, neglect, psychological or emotional abuse, and financial abuse..

Older adults can be susceptible to financial abuse because they may have savings that their children or family members may be eyeing — erroneously feeling entitled to help themselves to the money that will "be theirs someday," according to Burnight.

The effort gets a further boost from UC Irvine, which is home to the National Center on Elder Abuse, co-directed by Laura Mosqueda and Mary Twomey. The federally funded center is ground zero for information, research and advocacy on elder abuse and offering strategies to attack the problem.

Mosqueda and Twomey also co-direct the university's Center of Excellence on Elder Abuse and Neglect. Center personnel train caregivers, healthcare professionals and law enforcement to better recognize types of bruises and alert authorities if necessary, according to Burnight.

Bruises on the neck, genitals, ear lobes or the bottom of feet are red flags and do not typically occur in accidental bruising, said Burnight, who along with Mosqueda co-authored a study on forensic indicators of elder abuse.

Strategies to protect against abuse include talking often with family and friends about which person will make financial decisions and whose names are on the estate. Burnight instructs seniors to be cautious about scams asking for large sums of money to be wired to someone they don't know.

"Scammers will say, 'Hi grandma.' The victim will answer, 'Hi' with their grandchild's name, so the caller will have that name and impersonate the grandchild," Burnight said.

Along with the financial loss, the effects of falling for the trap can damage the senior emotionally, Burnight said.

"They lose all self-confidence and it brings them shame," she said.

There is nothing about aging that should elicit shame or remorse, Burnight said.

"Aging can be the most rewarding part of life; what we must do is to prevent elder abuse and neglect from happening in the first place," Burnight said. "Every single one of us can play a role in preventing elder abuse. Reach out to older adults you know, plan ahead for your older years with people you trust, know the signs and report suspected abuse."

There are several options for calling to report abuse, depending on the seniors' living situation.

If in a private home, the resident can call the county's Adult Protective Services 24-hour hotline at (800) 451-5155; if in a long-term care facility, such as a nursing home or board-and-care building, the person may call the ombudsman at (714) 479-0107.

Burnight added that there are simple and personal ways to keep tabs on a senior, including periodically stopping by his or her house.

Resources on Elder Abuse and Neglect

Center of Excellence on Elder Abuse and Neglect: The program conducts research, training, advocacy and direct services on the issue of elder abuse and neglect.

National Center on Elder Abuse:  NCEA is funded by the Administration on Aging and is a clearinghouse of information regarding research, training, best practices, and news and resources on elder abuse, neglect and exploitation. 

Ageless Alliance: This grassroots organization brings awareness and education to communities by encouraging people of all ages to take steps to eliminate elder abuse.  Ageless Alliance advocates for vulnerable adults and prevention of future abuse.

Eldercare Locator: A nationwide toll-free service provided by U.S. Administration on Aging has helped older adults and their caregivers find local services for seniors. Visit the website at or speak to an information specialist who has access to a database of more than 4,800 entries. The toll-free eldercare locator service operates from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Pacific time) Monday through Friday and can be reached at (800) 677-1116.

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