Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Spotting Financial Elder Abuse

I received an email message on January 16, 2007, from Dr. Bennett Blum about his offer for a free online resource regarding an "assessment tool" for spotting "undue influence" in relationships involving elderly persons.

What is "undue influence"? Wikipedia (a general reference, to be sure) introduces the concept here as follows:

In probate law, it is generally defined as a testator's loss of free agency regarding property disposition through contemporaneous psychological domination by an advisor which results in an excessive benefit to the advisor.
Dr. Blum, on his website, indicates the importance of this concept in situations of potential elder abuse:
Common concerns arising in elder financial abuse involve issues regarding: 1) the relationship between the elder and supposed perpetrator; and 2) biological factors that may impair the victim’s ability to know and understand what was happening.

If a relationship was manipulated in order to defraud or financially exploit the victim, it is important to determine whether the psychological and social elements of undue influence were present.

If there was no misuse of a relationship, then the financial abuse is usually considered to be a form of theft or consumer fraud – ex. identity theft, Internet scams, embezzlement, etc.
The goal of Dr. Blum, through his assessment tool, is "to provide practical, yet sophisticated, information that may be used immediately" to identify such "undue influence". He then described the free resource, offered on the website of CaseSoft, a producer of litigation software, as follows:
CaseSoft® - a division of LexisNexis® - is sponsoring a series of web-based seminars based upon my work. The series is entitled "Undue Influence & Elder Financial Abuse." These "webinars" are free and available to the public.

Chapter 1 of the series is an overview of the concept of undue influence, including some of the major subdivisions and associated behavioral models. References are given for those interested in more detailed study. (Available now).

Chapter 2 of the series contains an in-depth introduction to IDEAL - a behavior-based method of analyzing claims of undue influence. Sample cases and assessments are included. (Available February, 2007).

Chapter 3 will cover advanced issues in undue influence and IDEAL. Tips for investigation, case presentation, and cross-examination will also be included. (Release date to be announced).
To view the webinars, click here. You can view his website here.

There are many organizations that offer information online to educate citizens & professionals about "elder abuse" in general. Among the many resource sites available, these are excellent websites or web portals:
Pennsylvania does not have a statute mandating the reporting of suspected financial abuse of the elderly. California has much stricter laws. See: "When the Elderly Become Financial Targets", broadcast by National Public Radio, by Judy Campbell (May 31, 2005).

A 2005 enactment in California made those laws even stronger. See: California Welfare & Institutions Code ,Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act. The California Bankers Association now trains bank employees to spot elder abuse occurring with customers.

Is it time for stricter, confidential reporting in Pennsylvania by banks or other institutions to the Pennsylvania Department of Aging as to suspected financial elder abuse? I think so.

Update: 07/17/07:

AARP has compiled & posted in its online AARP Bulletin, a state-by-state listing of resources that address "elder abuse" situations.
"State-by-State Elder Abuse Resource List", compiled by Christopher J. Gearon (July-August 2007).

These are the resources listed for Pennsylvania: