MVLS was proud to join the ranks of the many consumer advocates carrying out the third annual PROTECT Week in Maryland, a weeklong campaign led by CCCSMD from June 15-21, 2020 in partnership with AARP Maryland, and supported by the Maryland Attorney General, Maryland Department of Aging, Maryland Department of Labor, Maryland Department of Human Services, the Maryland Office of the Commissioner of Financial Regulation, and other leading consumer groups. In recognizing that financial abuse is the most prevalent form of elder abuse, CCCSMD began this campaign to prevent financial exploitation among older adults through awareness, education, and the provision of resources.
MVLS was eager to take part in this fight for financial stability. However, combating financial exploitation, particularly among older adults, is no new priority of ours.
Approximately five million older Americans are financially exploited each year, the most common victims being older adults with limited resources.
The National Adult Protective Services Association reports that 90% of elder abuse is committed by an individual close to the victim with a trusting relationship, making victims of an underreported crime even less likely to come forward. According to Amy Hennen, MVLS Director of Advocacy and Financial Stabilization, “there is a lot of fear of strangers on the internet or the phone taking advantage of older adults, but statistically the real danger is with those closest to them. Those of us who are caregivers for older adults need to ensure we are open and transparent in our actions to ensure we are protecting them from us.”
Because unfortunately, once the money is gone, there is little to nothing that can be done to recoup their losses. In addition to crippling an older American’s personal finances, this can lead to housing destabilization by forcing older adults into long-term care facilities because they can no longer afford their homes, denying them the ability to age in place.
Financial exploitation can be prevented with proper education and planning. Simple financial changes, such as making bank accounts payable upon death instead of a having a joint account, or doing a life estate deed instead of adding someone to the deed of your home, can protect vulnerable adults and avoid catastrophic financial losses.
Over the past year, MVLS has been out in local communities, presenting on this important topic to community organizations, civic groups, and recently a gathering of several Baltimore City agencies. We have partnered with medical providers at local hospitals to provide education on the prevalence of older adult financial exploitation and how to identify it. Additionally, we have encouraged our many existing partners to commit to combating financial exploitation, including a committed priority by the Baltimore City Division of Aging.
To address the substantial lack of awareness and knowledge around financial exploitation, MVLS also created a variety of educational materials to share with older adults, their caregivers, and community advocates to reduce victimization and to help families begin to have conversations about elder financial abuse. We recently released a new webpage titled Financial Stability Information for Older Adults and published an Older Adult Resource Guide. As an organization, MVLS encourages and assists our clients in doing their estate planning – a will, financial power of attorney, advanced medical directive, and the various steps to avoid probate – critical steps in avoiding financial exploitation.
MVLS and the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition (MCRC) have engaged in a successful collaboration, where staff from both organizations educate older adults through community presentations, followed by MCRC providing financial coaching and training and MVLS assisting with advance planning needs. “It’s very relevant today. More and more older adults are being exploited and the trend of being exploited by a family member is increasing,” shared Francine Hyman, Financial Counselor at MCRC.
MVLS is thrilled to announce that we are one of just 16 sites nationwide to be awarded an Equal Justice Works (EJW) Fellow, who will begin working with us this summer. For the next two years, this prestigious fellowship member will work within the EJW’s Elder Justice Program to provide direct legal services to older victims of crime on civil legal issues arising from their victimization in areas such as financial exploitation, housing, consumer law, estate planning, estate administration, and family law. The Fellow will also increase multidisciplinary, coordinated responses to elder abuse. We’re looking forward to taking our commitment to abuse prevention much farther in the coming years.
PROTECT Week may be just a moment each year within the ongoing marathon to prevent financial exploitation, but MVLS is proud to take part alongside fellow advocates to call attention to such an important issue. But the work does not stop here. We encourage everyone to think about all the older adults in their lives and what resources and support they may need for financial security and independence.