By Mac McLean

The Bulletin

Seniors need to be more careful about trusting their friends or family with money, according to 2014 Oregon elder-abuse data.

A report by Oregon’s Office of Adult Abuse Prevention and Investigations found nearly three-fourths of Central Oregon’s financial-exploitation cases involved someone known or trusted by the victim.

“Most people think about scammers when they think about financial exploitation,” said Frank King, the Adult Protective Services supervisor for Crook, Deschutes and Jefferson counties. “But a vast majority of the cases we go out on involve a friend, a family member or a caregiver.”

State investigators recorded 1,059 cases in which people 65 or older, who lived on their own or with a loved a one, were victims of theft or someone had misused their money, medication or property.

Financial exploitation for seniors living outside of a long-term care facility was the most common type of elder abuse for the third year running in 2014.

For residents who live in long-term care facilities, it is the second-most common form of abuse happening, after neglect, according to OAAPI’s report.

Joe Merrifield, an OAAPI lead researcher, said the state government usually finds out about financial exploitation through irregular bank transactions. The banks report these situations to the local Adult Protective Services team.

Once a suspect is identified, the case is reported to law enforcement for possible prosecution.

Central Oregon seniors saw a higher rate than the state’s average for the number of financial exploitation cases involving friends — 33 percent in Crook, Deschutes and Jefferson counties compared to 22 percent statewide, according to the elder-abuse report. Family members were tied to 31 percent of Central Oregon’s cases compared to 50 percent of the state’s cases.

Merrifield said he wasn’t sure why Central Oregon had more incidents of acquaintance-perpetrated financial exploitation than the state average or why it had fewer incidents of family-perpetrated abuse.

But he said these cases often involve situations where older or disabled people can’t manage their own finances and ask a person they trust to step in and manage this job for them.

“The lines get blurred,” he said.

People who are put in this position have a duty to act only in the requester’s best interests, he said. Any other use of the funds could be considered financial exploitation or abuse.

The relationship between a victim and a perpetrator can make prosecuting financial exploitation cases difficult, King said.

If older or disabled people depend on someone to help them manage their finances, they may also depend on him or her for caregiving or a place to stay.

“They’re put in a hard position where they think: ‘If (this person) is arrested, then what happens to me?’” King said.

Adult Protective Services investigators are obligated to call the police when they suspect a crime has been committed, King said. However, they are given a certain amount of leeway if they suspect filing a report with law enforcement could put the victim at harm.

King added that the agency’s investigators also can work with other programs managed by the Oregon Department of Human Services to find the victims help so they no longer have to depend on the person who abused their trust.

“We can divide up the roles and make sure the victims get what they need,” he said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7816, mmclean@bendbulletin.com

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