Taking Bold Steps to End Elder Financial Abuse
By Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum
Elder financial abuse costs older Americans $2.9 billion per year. In one year alone, reports of financial exploitation in Oregon increased by nearly 20 percent and represented almost half of all abuse investigations conducted by the state.
That’s why fighting elder abuse has been a priority for me since becoming Oregon’s attorney general in 2012. Since then, I’ve worked hard to prevent and address the financial exploitation of older Oregonians.
Elder Abuse Unit
Earlier this year, I asked the Oregon Legislature to fund one permanent full-time elder abuse resource prosecutor and two permanent full-time investigators to provide investigative support at the prosecutor’s direction.
Ten organizations, including AARP, Legal Aid, the Oregon State Bar and the Alzheimer’s Association, all voiced their support for the new positions and the Oregon Legislature listened. In March 2016, the Oregon Department of Justice’s elder abuse unit was funded, making Oregon the second state in the country to have a statewide prosecutor devoted entirely to elder abuse.
I’m confident these positions will increase Oregon’s capacity to stop elder abuse by providing training, technical assistance and legal expertise to district attorneys, law enforcement and others who work with older Oregonians.
While Oregon has specific laws that criminalize the abuse, neglect and exploitation of older adults, these cases can be difficult to prosecute. Many involve the victimization of older adults by family members or others with whom they have an ongoing relationship. Victims may also be slow to recognize and report abuse, and reluctant to cooperate with criminal justice professionals.
Medicaid Fraud Unit
The creation of an elder abuse unit complements the work by the Oregon Department of Justice’s Medicaid fraud unit. This unit investigates and prosecutes Medicaid provider fraud as well as patient abuse or neglect in health care facilities and board and care facilities in Oregon. The unit has a long history of aggressively prosecuting individuals who victimize vulnerable elder and disabled Oregonians.
In May 2016, the unit prosecuted a fiduciary who targeted nearly 30 veterans. Lisa Bayer-Day, a nationally certified professional fiduciary, was convicted of multiple counts of criminal mistreatment in the first degree and aggravated theft in the first degree, theft in the first degree, money laundering and personal income tax evasion. The judge sentenced Bayer-Day to 48 months in prison and ordered her to pay more than $117,000 in restitution to the victims.
Consumer Protection Unit
In addition to the newly created elder abuse unit and the Medicaid fraud unit, Oregon has one of the most innovative consumer protection programs in the country. Not a single taxpayer dollar is spent on Oregon Department of Justice’s efforts to protect Oregonians from scams and fraud. In fact, Oregon’s consumer protection program at the Oregon Department of Justice operates solely on funds recovered from companies that break the law. And a lot of those companies target older adults.
For example, last year I announced a $3 million settlement and an agreement from a White City, Oregon, enterprise that operated a fraudulent nationwide subscription scam to permanently stop doing business. This company ran a sophisticated national operation that generated millions of dollars each year from older consumers who thought they were doing business with a reputable magazine or newspaper publisher, but were instead working with a company that made its money by scamming them. I’m happy we were able to shut them down and provide restitution to eligible consumers.
Outreach to Older Oregonians
While efforts to respond to cases of elder financial abuse are critical, they are only part of a more comprehensive policy equation. That’s why in addition to prosecutions and litigation—which can be quite expensive—the Oregon Department of Justice also has invested in education and outreach.
It’s no secret that well-informed Oregonians are more likely to recognize fraud and abuse, and less likely to become victims, or watch their family members become victims.
For more than 20 years, the Oregon Attorney General’s consumer hotline has helped consumers file complaints and answered questions about business practices, frauds and scams. The hotline is staffed by a team of dedicated—mostly retired—volunteers who personally fielded more than 47,000 calls last year.
In addition, Ellen Klem, a full-time employee, travels the state educating seniors on how to avoid becoming a victim of financial exploitation, fraud and scams. When she’s not presenting, she helps spread the word by creating and distributing brochures, fliers, posters, scam alerts and other educational material aimed at older Oregonians and the individuals who serve them.
The latest campaign, “Just Hang Up!” was released this summer on World Elder Abuse Day—June 15, 2016—to educate Oregonians about imposter scams and fraudulent phone calls. You can download the “Just Hang Up!” poster online at http://www.doj.state.or.us/consumer/pdf/just_hang_up_poster.pdf.
Elder financial exploitation is a growing epidemic in Oregon, and I have committed to do everything I can as attorney general to prevent it, address it and hold perpetrators accountable.
About the Author
Ellen Rosenblum was elected to serve as Oregon’s 17th attorney general in November 2012, the first woman to serve in that role in the state’s history. Previously, she served as a federal prosecutor and a state trial and appellate judge. She currently serves on the Executive Committee of the National Association of Attorneys General.