We can see signs of abuse when we see a black eye or a history of hospitalizations for broken bones. But how can justice professionals identify the signs of financial elder exploitation?
Join this recorded webinar, when Karen Webber is here to discuss:
- Recognizing red flags of financial exploitation
- Locating assets and obtaining documents
- Identifying and organizing key pieces of evidence
- Working with multidisciplinary teams and experts
Justice Clearinghouse Editors (JCH): Karen, you’re a new presenter for us. Tell us a bit about yourself.
Karen Webber: I am a CPA and CFE with my own forensic accounting practice, Webber CPA, PLLC, in Rochester, New York. My staff and I specialize in investigating financial exploitation cases, primarily of older adults, across New York State. Based on our experience, we also do a lot of training and consulting across the country on this topic.
The biggest myth that exists among some justice professionals
is that elder abuse is a civil matter.
It most definitely is not…
JCH: Financial Elder Abuse is a highly specialized topic. How did you get involved in this arena?
Karen: Chance, really! I was in graduate school for forensic accounting and a local nonprofit that serves older adults reached out to the department chair to ask whether any students were interested in an internship. Their caseworkers were encountering these financial exploitation cases but didn’t know how to go about investigating them. They needed someone to go through piles of financial records, and turn numbers into a narrative: how much was taken, by whom, and how. The work was so interesting and rewarding, especially when I got to see perpetrators successfully prosecuted, and victims protected. As awareness around the issues of elder abuse and financial exploitation grew, so did this practice area. Ten years later, here we are!
JCH: What are the biggest myths or misconceptions law enforcement, prosecutors or other justice professionals might have about investigating or prosecuting financial elder abuse?
Karen: The biggest myth that exists among some justice professionals is that elder abuse is a civil matter. It most definitely is not, and all of us in the field do our part to dispel that myth. When a victim is financially exploited by a family member – and as horrible as it is to even imagine, exploiters typically are family members – a responding professional may look at the situation as a family dispute over property, or incorrectly assume that because the family member in question has power of attorney for the victim, any taking of property is within his or her right. POAs and fiduciary relationships aren’t licenses to steal, and when you use a victim’s money for your own benefit and not theirs, that’s stealing.
…[O]lder adults who have been victims of financial exploitation
are three times more likely to die than older adults who have not.
JCH: The idea of financial elder abuse – the notion that elderly people can be targeted and scammed out of their life savings – is just a heartbreaking thought. What keeps you motivated or inspired to continue the work you do?
Karen: We get some really hard cases. What makes them even more heart-breaking is that financial exploitation often co-occurs with other forms of abuse: physical, sexual, verbal, neglect. Even without some other form of abuse, though, older adults who have been victims of financial exploitation are three times more likely to die than older adults who have not. That’s staggering. I tell my staff that what we are doing is really life-saving work. The more that elder abuse cases get prosecuted, the more these stories will hit the headlines, and that awareness is going to build a culture of prevention that will save people’s lives.