My View: Elder abuse: the burgeoning problem of financial exploitation


There has been an explosion in the number of reports of financial exploitation coming to the Alexandria’s Adult Protective Services Unit. These reports represent more than 25 percent of all referrals to the APS unit of the city’s Division of Aging and Adult Services. At any one time, there are upward of 15 open cases of financial exploitation being investigated by APS staff, and this exploitation takes many forms.

An elderly couple, living in Old Town, formerly outstanding in their respective professional fields, had recently been scammed out of $100,000 by a series of unscrupulous contractors. It began with a knock on the door and a request to trim tree limbs, for which the fee turned out to be $2,000. The wife found it reasonable.

Then came another string of other knocks with people offering to clean up the yard, clean gutters, etc. Little by little, with a $2,000 check here and a $1,500 check there, their lifetime of savings dwindled to almost nothing.

As this series of checks was written, their bank noticed the unusual activity and made a referral to APS. Clearly this couple was at risk for further exploitation. Because of a substantial sensory deprivation on the husband’s part and some early dementia on the wife’s part, the court determined that they lacked capacity to manage their finances and a conservator was appointed to do so for them.

A referral recently came for a 69-year-old retired college professor who was being scammed into buying land in Costa Rica. It began with a telephone call to her, followed by a series of legitimate-looking forms requiring her signature. Because all of this looked legit, she parted with close to $100,000 and continues to believe there is a piece of property waiting for her in the island paradise.

And so the list goes on.

As residents of a close-knit community, we must rely on friends, neighbors and authorities to report any suspected financial exploitation. This abuse takes many forms, including the unexplained disappearance of funds, valuables or personal belongings; the presence of an adult child that is financially dependent upon the elderly individual; the sudden appearance of previously uninvolved relatives or friends or an unusual household composition; excessive payments for care or services; depleted bank accounts and returned checks; change in the elderly individual’s power of attorney or will; or the elderly individual is kept isolated.

This time of the year —with the leaves falling, gutters needing to be cleaned, etc. — seniors are more at risk than ever of being scammed.

If you suspect a senior or disabled adult is being financially exploited (or otherwise abused or neglected), you may make an anonymous report to the Adult Protective Services intake line at 703-746-5999, option 3. You do not have to substantiate the suspected abuse or exploitation. That is the role of the APS staff which will initiate an investigation within 24 hours of receiving the report.

Help make Alexandria financially safer for older adults.

– Vera Weathers

The writer is the supervisor at Adult Protective Services for the City of Alexandria.