When guardians harm the elderly person they're looking after, they often do it by targeting the victim's wealth, according to a federal report released on Wednesday.
The Government Accountability Office study cited eight cases in six states involving elder abuse by a guardian. Each of them involved financial ripoffs. Penalties and restitution ordered by courts ranged from $20,000 to $160,000.
“Officials from selected courts and representatives from organizations GAO spoke to described their observations about elder abuse by a guardian, including that one of the most common types appeared to be financial exploitation,” the GAO report states. “A prosecutor in one of the states we spoke to shared her observation that the majority of financial exploitation by professional guardians is done through overcharging for services that were either not necessary or were never performed.”
The GAO said that the extent of elder abuse perpetrated by guardians can't be determined because of lack of data.
One of the senators who requested the GAO study said that more needs to be done to stop financial exploitation by those who are supposed to be helping their elderly charges.
“Guardians should be protecting seniors, not stealing from them,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine and chairman of the Senate Aging Committee. The GAO study was released at a panel hearing on Wednesday.
Another committee lawmaker who used to work in the financial services industry said that financial exploitation of the elderly will get worse as the population ages.
“The level of abuse that is in this space is tremendous,” said Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C. and a former insurance agency owner. “Unfortunately, we'll see more abuse.”
Senior financial abuse is growing rapidly in Maine, according to Jaye Martin, executive director of Maine Legal Services for the Elderly. Much of it is done by relatives of the elderly who consider it “accelerating the inheritance,” she said in testimony before the Senate panel.
“That's what they think when they're being kind to themselves in their own mind,” Ms. Martin said.