Crimes against the Elderly


• The legal definition of abuse is broad and encompasses a number of violations. Abuse can include not only physical assault, but sexual assault, verbal abuse and threats. Involuntary seclusion, intimidation, deprivation and humiliation also fall under the legal category of abuse. These actions are considered abusive even if the victim is not able to hear or comprehend the abuse.

Neglect and Exploitation
• Neglect is defined legally as the failure to provide for an individual's basic needs which would protect him from physical or emotional harm. Neglect can include failure to provide food, clothing or shelter as well as failing to provide necessary medical support. Exploitation occurs when a caregiver illegally uses a victim's property or financial resources for personal gain.

Mandated Reporting
• Under Texas law, if you suspect someone over the age of 65 is being abused, exploited or neglected, you are required to make a report to the Department of Family and Protective Services. Your name will be kept confidential and you are assured immunity from prosecution as long as your report is being made in good faith. If you know or suspect a situation of elder abuse and fail to report it, in Texas, you may face criminal prosecution ranging from misdemeanor to felony charges.
Elder abuse is more common than most people think. Many elders do not understand the problem and are unaware of the existing dangers. Abuse can range from mild to severe. Elder abuse is often a hidden and underreported crime. Criminals often target those who appear defenseless, unaware, and vulnerable.

Elder abuse could happen to you, an elderly friend, or elderly relative. Often the simple truth is that an elderly victim living alone has lost contact with others and may not be “looked in upon” regularly by family and friends. You can make a difference in the life of an elder who may have become an unwitting victim of financial abuse, or who is unknowingly being held a virtual captive, in their own home by person(s) who are exploiting the individual for their monthly social security, pension, or savings account money.

Do you have an elder in your life? If you are 25 years old you could have a 65 year old grandparent in your life. If you are 45 years old you could have a parent who is 65 or older.

Crimes against the elderly and dependent adults can either be financial or physical offenses. Approximately 85% or the crimes committed against the elderly are financial in nature, and majority of these crimes are committed in the individual’s own residence. Sadly, family members acting as “caregivers” are often the culprits.

Abuse, a crime that reached its peak in the 1990s, continues to impact the population today. Abuse affects many, whether it is through domestic violence, child abuse, or elder abuse. Violence often defines these crimes and involves family members of all ages.

How Do I Know When I See Elder Abuse?
Tell-tale signs and symptoms include changes in behavior, physical appearance and general demeanor. Abuse may also manifest itself through depression. Depression may result from certain contributing factors such as having been a victim of physical or financial abuse.

How to Report
There are three primary bodies to which abuse should be reported depending on the living circumstances of the victim. For a victim of elder abuse who lives at home and is cared for by family, contact Adult Protective Services at (800) 252-5400.

If the victim relies on professional care either through an assisted living facility, nursing home or in-home health aide, contact the Texas Department of State Health Services at (800) 458-9858.

Abuse that occurs in a Medicaid funded long-term care facility should be reported to the Attorney General's Medicaid Fraud Control Unit at (800) 252-8011 or by e-mail at

Common Scams against the Elderly
We've all seen the "distressed loved one" scams where someone calls an elderly person and tells them they are their grandchild in order to extort money from them.  Now there seems to be a new scam targeting the elderly that I want to put out there.  A few bad apple companies are calling elderly consumers and telling them they are an "Inspector" or "Investigator" who found their personal information on various mailing lists.  The person goes on to tell the elderly person that they are at a high risk of identity theft and that their company can help.

Using high-pressure sales tactics, the scammer convinces the elderly person to buy into a program that will eliminate their personal information from being distributed.  The company these people are working for will then charge the elderly person's credit card every month without authorization and when pressured for a refund, will not give it.  The "membership" to these types of companies can run from $250-$450 per month so it doesn't take long for these charges to really add up, especially given that so many elderly are on fixed incomes.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) warns against the following four common scams that commonly target senior citizens:

Sweepstakes and Lottery Scams –Typically, the victim receives a letter in the mail stating they have won a lottery or sweepstakes; it might even claim to be from Publisher’s Clearing House or Reader’s Digest. The letter instructs the victim to deposit an enclosed check and then wire a portion back to the company to cover taxes or administration fees. While the funds will initially show up in the bank account, the money will be removed when the bank determines the check is fake. The victim is out whatever they wired back to the scammers—often amounting to thousands of dollars

Never wire money to someone you don’t know. You should never have to send money to receive any winnings from a lottery or sweepstakes.

Medicare Scams – Navigating the Medicare system isn’t easy and some scammers will look for any opportunity to take advantage of the confusion. Commonly, a scammer will claim to be with Medicare and ask for personal information such as Medicare, Medicaid, social security, credit card or bank account numbers. The victim might be given any number of excuses to provide this information including that an error needs to be fixed, that he or she is part of a survey or eligible to receive free products or can sign up for a new prescription drug plan.

Remind your elderly family members that Medicare will never call to ask for sensitive personal financial information.
Bereavement Scams – Scammers will often try to take advantage of the increased vulnerability of senior citizens who have recently lost a loved one, such as a spouse. In one recent example, a mother and daughter team in Ohio would find targets by scouring the obituaries. They would then call the widow or widower and claim that their spouse had outstanding debts that needed to be paid immediately. Victims would then provide a blank check or credit card.
Advice: Offer help to elderly family members if they have recently lost a loved one and are inexperienced in managing finances. If you are uncertain about owing a debt when collectors call, ask for written confirmation.

Investment and Work at Home Opportunities - Promises of easy money often target older adults because they may be looking to supplement their income. The pitch might come in the form of an investment opportunity that promises big returns, or as a way to make money at home for an upfront cost. Regardless of the specifics, the victim is offered what sounds like a great opportunity but the extra income never materializes.

Advice: Always research any work at home opportunity with the BBB. Beware of investment or money-making offers that seem too good to be true or use high pressure sales tactics to get you to sign up immediately.

If you hear from a company like this, please call the BBB IMMEDIATELY so they can take the necessary steps to tracking down these scam artists.  While it is noble and very admirable that the elderly are more trusting of other people than most, scammers unfortunately find them easy targets and BBB will help.

BBB: 409.832.9869