Seniors can be targets of scams, fraud

The conversation becomes touchy when it is about money. The perception is that all Mercer Islanders have plenty of money. Haven’t we all heard “well you must have money to live on Mercer Island?” This perception helps to create potentially dangerous situations for my vulnerable clients here on the Island. Sometimes it is foreign lotteries or sweepstakes that can encourage people to send a few thousand bucks in hopes of a great return, or it can be theft right out of your mailbox, or even a very determined family member that demands money because of a mental health, drug or alcohol problem.

This can be financial exploitation and is a growing concern for our vulnerable senior population. This also becomes a dilemma on how to protect the senior from being exploited without taking away their freedom to use their money however they want. It is their money, they earned it and if they want to send money to a foreign lottery, why should I stop them? The real sticking point; when is a person considered vulnerable and are spending their money improperly.

The statute defines a vulnerable adult as someone who is over the age of 18 and is defined by RCW 71A.10.020 as having a developmental disability, anyone who is 60 and older who has the functional, mental or physical inability to care for themselves, receiving care services in the home and anyone who lives in a facility.

Often financial exploitation is obvious. The senior has severe dementia and someone has put a form in front of them and asks them to sign. The senior does not know what a “Quick Claim Deed” is. Senior signs the form because the person is ever so nice. But other types of financial exploitation are not so clear. Senior is very concerned about an adult child who has no money and may become homeless. Senior supports adult child regularly, often sacrificing their own financial stability. Is this last scenario truly exploitation? It will depend on whether the person is vulnerable or not.

The struggle is figuring out who is vulnerable and needs protection from someone who makes financial decisions that we may not agree with. Just because you are over the age of 60 does not mean that you are automatically considered a vulnerable adult. Adult Protective Services is the agency that investigates allegations of neglect, abuse and exploitation, often with the involvement with professionals like me and sometimes the police. As a mandated reporter, I report to Adult Protective Services when I have reasonable cause to suspect that a vulnerable adult has been exploited, abused or neglected and one of the things I need to consider is whether the person fits the statute of vulnerability.

I do expect more issues regarding financial exploitation to come up with our senior population here on the Island. Partly due to the fact that many residents have lived here for many years, property has appreciated quite nicely and folks are living longer. I often have discussion with seniors and their families on how to put some legal and financial protections in place in case the person becomes incapacitated. But it also is good for all of us to be aware of what can happen and let someone know if there is a concern.

Betsy Zuber, a geriatric specialist, has been working in the field of aging for 17 years. She provides social services to people 55+ and their families who live on Mercer Island. Please contact her at (206) 236-3525, e-mail betsy.zuber@, or mail MIYFS 2040 84th Ave. S.E., Mercer Island, WA 98040. Mercer Island Youth & Family Services is a department of the city of Mercer Island.

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