Friday, November 8, 2019

Vulnerable adults can be easy targets for financial abuse

By SHARON JACKSON | Adult Protective Services Program Director, LDH Office of Behavioral Health

News headlines in recent months have brought us stories of elderly Louisianans who have been tricked into withdrawing money from the bank or taking money from a family member’s account without permission, among other stories of financial abuse. While cases such as these are handled by the Governor’s Office of Elderly Affairs, which serves people ages 60 and older, there is a resource within the Louisiana Department of Health that serves a similar purpose for those under 60.

Adult Protective Services (APS) operates under the umbrella of the Department’s Office of Aging and Adult Services, serving ages 18 to 59 and emancipated minors (those who are legally considered an adult). APS investigates reports of abuse and arranges for services to protect vulnerable members of these populations who are at risk of abuse, neglect, exploitation or extortion.

Financial abuse, including exploitation and extortion, is one of the allegations APS investigates, and the number of cases APS investigates has been on the rise over the past several years. Reports of vulnerable adult Louisianans falling victim to financial abuse climbed from 760 in 2017 to 828 in 2019. It’s the third most common kind of abuse investigated by APS in Louisiana, after caregiver neglect and emotional abuse. While being highly common, financial abuse is also highly underreported.

What is considered financial abuse?

Adult Protective Services handles issues of theft and fraud by a family member, caregiver or other parties known to the adult.

Theft involves assets taken without the adult’s knowledge, consent or authorization. It may also include the taking of their cash, valuables, medications or other personal property. Fraud involves acts of dishonestly by those entrusted to manage the adult’s assets but instead use them for unintended purposes. Fraud may include falsification of records, forgeries, unauthorized check-writing and Ponzi-type financial schemes.

According to the National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA), vulnerable adults who fall victim to financial exploitation may be subject to:
  • Loss of trust in others
  • Loss of security
  • Depression
  • Feelings of fear, shame, guilt, anger, self-doubt, remorse and/or worthlessness
  • Financial destitution
  • Inability to replace lost assets through employment
  • Inability to hire an attorney to pursue legal protections and remedies
  • Becoming reliant on government safety net programs
  • Inability to provide long-term care needs
  • Loss of primary residence

Sometimes, people who have been the victims of financial abuse may also be victims of physical and/or emotional abuse or neglect.

Reporting abuse
Louisiana’s Adult Protective Services Reporting Law requires all Louisianans to report abuse, neglect, exploitation and extortion of adults with disabilities. Any citizen who reports in good faith and who cooperates or participates in judicial proceedings to assistant in an investigation by APS is granted immunity from civil or criminal liability.

Under this law, anyone who knows of such an incident and fails to report it or knowingly makes a false report is subject to criminal penalties.

To report a case of a vulnerable adult (between ages 18 and 59) who may be at risk of abuse, call APS at 1-800-898-4910. This toll-free hotline takes reports 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If the situation threatens the life of an adult with disabilities, call 911 immediately.

You don’t have to give your own name when making a report, but doing so along with providing your contact information helps APS with its investigation if additional information or details are needed at a later date. If you choose to share your name, it will be kept confidential unless the case requires the involvement of law enforcement.

When reporting a case to APS, you’ll need to provide the alleged victim’s name, location and details of the alleged abuse. Share as much information as possible. APS will screen your report to make sure it’s appropriate for APS services. If deemed appropriate, an APS specialist is assigned to the case. This specialist will conduct an investigation and arrange protective services for the victim.

Investigating abuse

Depending on the victim’s risk of harm, an investigation will begin within 24 hours or before 10 business days of the report being filed, with investigations being completed within 30 days. Because APS is not a law enforcement agency, these probes are not criminal investigations. However, APS may refer a case to law enforcement or the District Attorney’s Office when a crime is suspected.

If during the course of the investigation the victim is determined to be at continued risk of harm or mistreatment has occurred, APS will use social service or civil legal options to protect the victim. Interventions to protect the victim or reduce their risk of harm go into action within 90 to 120 days, though competent adults have the legal right to refuse intervention.

APS investigations are confidential, so results can’t be shared or released except for certain information and only to the victim and/or their legal representative and with law enforcement, medical or social service agencies, as needed, to coordinate services to the victim.

Remember: If you suspect or have evidence that someone is being financially abused, report it. Help keep some of our most vulnerable Louisianans safe.

For more resources on Adult Protective Services, click here.

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