According to a study by the Pennsylvania Department of Aging, elder financial abuse was one of the top five most frequently reported allegations of abuse made by 21 states, including Pennsylvania, to the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging’s Fraud Hotline.
Older adults, according to the study, are at an increased risk for financial exploitation due to health changes which occur during the natural aging process, as well as their steady income, accumulated wealth, and retirement savings over their lifespan. The average victim lost nearly $40,000 — including unreported cases, total losses in the state could be as high as $2.5 billion.
Temple’s Institute on Protective Services, located at the Harrisburg Campus, recently received a grant to help combat elder financial exploitation throughout the state. The grant totaling $997,141 will help the Institute spearhead the state “Elder Exploitation and Investment Fraud Prevention Task Forces Program.”
“For the last 20 years, the Institute on Protective Services at Temple Harrisburg has worked with the Pennsylvania Department of Aging (PDA) to provide training, education, and case consultation to older adults protective services investigators,” said Richard Albrecht, Assistant Director of Training and Curriculum Development for the Institute on Protective Services at Temple University Harrisburg. “Through this relationship, the Institute started working closely with the state Department of Banking and Securities (DoBS) to assist in providing education and training about elder financial exploitation.”
According to Albrecht, the grant will focus on furthering Pennsylvania’s response to elder financial exploitation and investor protection and assist local task forces with providing education, outreach, and training “so that these cases can be identified, recovery of funds can be pursued, and hopefully prevent older Pennsylvanian’s from being exploited in the first place.”
“The grant is really going to be able to further enhance local task forces, and hopefully, the creation of some regional elder abuse task forces.,” he said. “Currently in the state of Pennsylvania we have about 36 (out of 67) counties that have an elder abuse task force. Since we’ve announced this grant, we’ve had six counties reach out that would like to develop their own task forces.”
According to Albrecht, elder financial abuse is “vastly underreported.”
“A lot of research indicates that about one out of 40 cases come to the attention of authorities,” he said. “In Pennsylvania, extrapolating the results of the Department of Aging’s study, it is a massive problem, potentially costing victims billions.”
The Institute for Protective Services, the PDA and DoBS are taking a two-pronged approach to address victimization by family members, friends, “people in positions of trust and power,” in addition to addressing scams that target elder residents.
“Public education and awareness is not necessarily enough — how can we and families work together to ensure some checks and balances without infringing on the autonomy of older Pennsylvanians,” he said. “This grant will give us the opportunity to provide financial support to county task forces to help them expand and enhance what they are able to do. The Institute will
work directly with the Department of Banking and Securities to help provide these resources and offer training to the local Area Agencies on Aging and local task forces so that they are better able to utilize this funding to support their individual objectives.”
Albrecht said the grant project will be implemented over a five year period of time.
“Our annual effort will be split between working with local Area Agencies on Aging to create new county task forces while also supporting the current task forces to help them enhance what they are able to accomplish,” he said. “Ultimately, I think this collaboration will result in enhanced communication and the ability to be more responsive in task forces working through these cases. Hopefully, we’ll see better restorative justice outcomes — whatever way we can make an older adult whole is going to be a positive outcome.”
The Institute on Protective Services at Temple University Harrisburg provides education and consultation to human service and law enforcement professionals on identifying, investigating and resolving cases of elder abuse and victimization of vulnerable adults. The Institute is supported through funds from the Pennsylvania Department of Aging and Pennsylvania Department of Human Services.
Learn more about the Institute on Protective Services at Temple Harrisburg.