June 15, 2018, is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Communities around the world are focusing on the abuse, fraud, neglect, and schemes perpetrated against older individuals. As South Dakota’s United States Attorney, I take very seriously the role of our office in protecting older South Dakotans.
In 2017, Congress passed the Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act. Among other things, this law enabled the Attorney General of the United States to allocate resources to federal investigations and prosecutions of crimes against older Americans.
In the District of South Dakota, I have designated Kevin Koliner, an experienced prosecutor, to serve as my office’s Elder Justice Coordinator. Kevin is responsible for prosecuting elder abuse cases, coordinating with state and tribal partners, and conducting public outreach and awareness activities relating to elder abuse. On a national level, the Department of Justice has convened a large working group to ensure that federal law enforcement stays ahead of the criminals, with access to current trends and information necessary to fulfill our duty of protecting older Americans.
Our focused efforts have already seen results. Here in South Dakota, our office has prosecuted a large-scale wire fraud case in which an older South Dakotan was targeted in a scam that involved gaining access to his investment account, then forging check requests to deplete the funds. In a separate case involving thousands of elderly victims, three co-defendants were recently sentenced to considerable time in federal prison after a decades-long scheme in which they peddled a supposed cure-all medical device, enticing vulnerable customers with false claims of scientific studies.
My office is also proud to partner with state and tribal law enforcement on these issues, working together to determine the best forum for ensuring justice for victims of these crimes. For instance, some matters are best pursued federally because they involve fraud on federal programs or they require interstate or international investigations. Other elder abuse cases might be best pursued by state authorities, perhaps if they are more local in nature, such as crimes perpetrated by direct caregivers or family members.
This partnership model has been a great success. Nationwide, the Department of Justice in partnerships between U.S. Attorneys, federal, state, and tribal law enforcement agencies, state attorney generals, and state prosecutors have over the past year brought elder abuse cases involving over 250 defendants, $600 million in victim losses, and involving over one million victims from every state.
As we mark World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, I want to share with you some practical advice regarding warning signs of potential elder abuse.
Examples of financial exploitation include:
- Use of ATM or credit cards without permission
- Forging signatures on checks or important documents
- Requests to older adults for money to cover “emergency” expenses
- Pressure to grant power of attorney rights
- Unauthorized sales, such as family heirlooms
Signs that your loved one might be a victim of financial exploitation:
- Sudden changes in banking practices
- Being accompanied to important appointments by unknown person
- Adding new names on bank signature cards
- Sudden changes in wills or other important documents
- Unexplained disappearance of funds or possessions
- Substandard personal care
- Unpaid bills when financials resources should be adequate
- Sudden appearance of previously uninvolved relatives
Steps to protect yourself:
- Check financial statements regularly (at least monthly)
- Store important documents in a locked drawer
- Talk to your bank about age-friendly banking options
- Contact an attorney with any legal questions, and be assured you understand their advice before proceeding
- Visit ftc.gov every year to get free credit reports, then review those reports thoroughly
For more information about the Department of Justice’s efforts to prevent and combat elder abuse, please visit the Elder Justice Website at elderjustice.gov. There is also a victim connect hotline, 1-855-4VICTIM (1-855-484-2846), where you can receive service referrals by senior services specialists. Finally, if you believe you or your loved one is a victim of physical or sexual abuse, do not hesitate to contact local police immediately.