Greedy abusers prey on elderly

Last updated 05:00 10/02/2014

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Authorities are warning elderly people to be on guard against an increase in "caregivers" trying to rip them off.

A rise in the number of lonely and sick elderly Kiwis being cared for in their own homes has provided fertile ground for financial abusers posing as caregivers, cleaners or gardeners, elder law specialists Age Concern say.

Increasingly, caregivers were being paid to care for the elderly at home and "because they spend a lot of time with these people they become like companions and then the door is open for grooming", family lawyer Patricia Wardill said.

"It's like a breach of trust really, because the elderly person tends to transfer their affections on to the person who is paying them attention."

Police were aware of at least two active cases of financial elder abuse in Canterbury, one involving a neighbour and another involving a food deliverer.

National Age Concern figures show reported referrals of financial elder abuse almost doubled from 1100 in the 2010/11 financial year to about 2000 in 2012/13.

Financial elder abuse was usually committed by family members, with about 75 per cent of reported cases linked to relatives, Age Concern Canterbury chief executive Simon Templeton said.

However, with more elderly people being cared for at home by strangers, Age Concern was aware of a trend of predatory financial abuse by non-family members.

"That could be people grooming the elderly for money, getting put into their will or moving in with them and using their finances to fund their own lives," he said.

"It happens a lot. Men can get sucked in by these women who provide them friendship and companionship, but it comes at a financial cost."

More than 40 per cent of those abused lived alone and Templeton was aware of some people getting jobs as caregivers or food deliverers "with the intent purpose of finding frail old people who they could rip off. They might be thinking that if they deliver five meals, one might be to a rich and easy target."

Over the past 18 months, Wardill had been involved in five cases of financial predatory elder abuse by non-family members.

One of the abusers was a neighbour, another had met the elderly victim through a spiritualist church group, she said.

Twenty years ago, the phenomenon was "very, very rare, but today it's sadly not quite so rare".

In the past, families would frequently take in their elderly parents or rest home care would be more readily available, she said.

"There are a lot of elderly people who . . . would have got access to rest home care earlier, but now it appears very difficult and these folk get very lonely and very isolated at home," she said.

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"The biggest risk is a caregiver or person who identifies an elderly person who is vulnerable and then befriends them when there is no professional body or set of rules operating how they conduct that relationship."

Canterbury police prevention manager Inspector Richard Bruce encouraged family and friends to remain active in their elderly relatives' lives and to help manage their finances.

Family should carry out thorough vetting, reference checks and background inquiries into caregivers.

- The Press

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