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Adult Protective Services is Here to Help

This week I attended an informative meeting with local fellow attorneys. The guest speakers were from Orange County Adult Protective Services. My top two takeaways were: (1) Adult Protective Services is a great community service and (2) financial elder abuse is rampant in California. The number of victims is increasing each year. I am sharing some of what I learned here so that we can educate ourselves and our elders and hopefully decrease the number of victims.

What is Adult Protective Services?

Adult protective services (APS) is a part of the county social services agency. APS has been created to prevent and remedy any abuse, neglect or exploitation of any adults aged 65+ (elders) and dependent adults (age 18 to 64), i.e., adults who have physical or mental limitations that restrict their ability to carry out normal activities. It is a resource available to all levels of income.

The purpose of Adult Protective Services is to “prevent and remedy any abuse, neglect or exploitation.” This means that APS is not going to interfere with the lifestyle choices of elders or dependent adults. If the elder or dependent adult has made their own individual determination to live a certain way, that is their choice.

The purpose of APS is to prevent other people from causing harm to elders and dependent adults. Types of abuse include physical abuse, psychological abuse, financial abuse, neglect, abandonment, abduction, isolation, and self-neglect due to being unable to handle the basics of daily living. 

  • The Orange County APS 24-hour Abuse Hotline is 800-451-5155.

  • APS will not remove an elder from their home against the elder's will. 

  • APS will not force a client to accept APS services. APS is strictly confidential.

  • APS works with clients who are living independently. Elders in long-term care facilities need to contact the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program at 800-300-6222.

  • APS social workers will aid the client by guiding them to various applicable services and programs that can stop the victimization. It may include law enforcement or other senior protection programs.

Financial Elder Abuse

Financial abuse is the fastest growing form of elder abuse. Unfortunately, it is the least reported type of elder abuse. Financial abuse is the illegal use of an elder or dependent adult's funds, property and/or assets. Financial predators (scammers) are targeting everyone but elders and adults with compromised judgment are particularly susceptible. 

When APS social workers suspect that the elder or dependent adult is a victim of financial abuse, they frequently learn that family members and intimate partners are the perpetrators. Other trusted persons that financially abuse elders include caregivers, close friends, “sweethearts,” and other people with unique trust relationships, such as financial service providers. 

Of course, strangers are out there, contacting elders every day, to try to scam them. Scammers use scare tactics such as a fake call from the IRS about an unpaid tax debt and lawsuit. Other scare tactics involve stories about grandchildren in jail or children having been abducted. They use fear to get elders to act quickly before they can rationalize the problem. 

Folks need to be highly suspicious if they did not initiate the phone call; they are asked for their social security number; they are asked to pay for something immediately with a credit card; they are asked for login information; they are pressured to by gift cards for the person calling; or they are pressured to buy services. 

Other scams involve the promise of large sums of money, such as a lottery or sweepstakes prize if the elder just sends money to them first, purportedly to cover some expense or tax. Watch for financial advisors, broker, or insurance agents selling amazing investments or financial products that are inappropriate for elders. 

Strangers also come to the elder's home trying to get them to make unnecessary home repairs or to buy magazines. If someone stops by unannounced to fix the computer, phone line, cable, etc., stop and go call the company the stranger is allegedly from and check them out online through the National Fraud Information Center or the State Attorney General's website.

Let's not forget identity theft. There are tons of scams arriving in your email every day. Be very, very cautious about clicking on anything in your email because they are usually connections back to the scammer's computers, no the alleged company. It is best to just go directly to the website and log-in from there. Scammers also attempt to get elders to believe that they can control their computer and if they don't pay up, the computer data will be destroyed.

Warning Signs of Financial Exploitation

If you notice any of the following signs, your elder may have been a victim of financial abuse. Call Adult Protective Services to make a confidential report which APS can investigate.

  • Sudden changes in the elder's financial condition – changes in banking habits or spending patterns.

  • Unexplained changes in title documents and life insurance policies.

  • Suspicious changes in wills, powers of attorney and trusts.

  • An adult with compromised judgment making changes to these documents without understanding the consequences.

  • Missing personal property such as items missing from the home or cash missing.

  • Changes in the elder's personal appearance, health status and/or personal habits.

  • Unpaid bills or lack of medical care despite the elder seemingly having enough funds to cover such expenses.

  • New co-signors on bank accounts or new credit cards.

  • Unnecessary new subscriptions, goods or services.

  • Increased telephone solicitations (scammers sell the victim's information to other crooks).

If you suspect elder abuse, contact your county's Adult Protective Services abuse hotline. In Orange County, the number is 800-451-5155.

Elders should also consider estate planning to have a trust in place along with a financial power of attorney and an advance directive for healthcare. If you would like help with estate planning, let's start a conversation.