In a classic elder-abuse scenario, the predator isolates the older person, creating an environment of manipulation, intimidation, and fear
Experts say it’s not only the volume of cases that have swelled but also the variety. Greenwood says fraud committed by strangers such as unlicensed home contractors and phone sweepstakes scammers is bigger than ever. So are crimes involving people in close contact with seniors. Ninety percent of abusers are family members or trusted others. Of all reported elder-abuse cases, financial exploitation is reported most frequently.
“The referrals we get run the gamut, from someone having their Social Security check being taken to an account drained of over $200,000,” Smith says.
Professional caregivers pose particular risks because of their closeness to the victims and, perhaps, their generally low wages. We unearthed numerous cases in which health aides, either in the home or in an institution, had taken items, cash, or Social Security checks from their elderly charges, or worse. The New York study found that 12 percent of elder abuse was perpetrated by home health aides.
“I see a lot of middle-aged women, unskilled caretakers,” Toy White says. “For the first time in their lives that we know of, they start to steal. The temptation of the money is so great.”
New “friends” also can be perpetrators. Cynthia Gartman, president of Ikor, a for-profit advocacy and guardianship service based in Kennett Square, Pa., recalls an elderly woman with diminished mental capacity supporting a number of predators, including a minister. One was taking the woman shopping once a week so that she’d buy the freeloader groceries and supplies.
In a classic elder-abuse scenario, the predator isolates the older person, creating an environment of manipulation, intimidation, and fear. In 2012, Rodney Chapman of Damariscotta, Maine, was sentenced to five years in prison after pilfering the life savings—more than $300,000—of his widowed neighbor, Gwendolyn Swank, now 86. According to a court document and police reports, Chapman played on Swank’s fears of reported drug trafficking in the area and encouraged her to pay phony law-enforcement agents for her protection. On several occasions, he ordered the frightened woman to hide in her house. He took away her phone, restricted visitors, coerced her into drinking whiskey, and limited when she could drive. Investigators later determined that Chapman had spent some of Swank’s money to renovate his home and “blew” the rest.
“By the time we intervened, she was down to living on peanut butter and rice cakes,” Lincoln County, Maine, Detective Robert McFetridge told the Bangor Daily News in June 2012. “She was really a prisoner in her own home.”