Elder Abuse - Tarnishing the Golden Years

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It's an issue that can tarnish our loved ones golden years. Elder abuse is a growing problem and it has a devastating effect on more than you may realize. Five million Americans are victimized every year - according to the U.S. Department of Justice; but only 1 in 24 cases is reported.

Brenda Christian is the manager of Adult Protective Services. Her department covers 3 counties - Marathon, Langlade, & Lincoln. She estimates the department gets 45 to 50 reports a month asking for people to look into situations. Those cases can vary from self neglect, abuse, abandonment, and more. She says there's a growing problem of older residents being financially exploited.

Christian says, "Looking at statistics from the 3 counties we serve, it fluctuated between 10% for Lincoln and Langlade counties and in Marathon County it's 18%." She continues to say that's really high.

For the past 7 years, Marathon County Assistant District Attorney Sidney Brubacher has made prosecuting these types of cases a priority.

Brubacher says, "The majority of elder abuse is financial." He continues, "It falls into what we call early inheritance where a family member will steal money thinking they are going to get it anyway."

This type of scenario was often considered a civil case, but Brubacher say it warrants criminal charges and is prosecuted.

"If you steal $5 from a senior citizen, that's elder abuse and that's a felony." Brubacher continues to say there's no dollar amount for it to be considered elder abuse. He's prosecuted cases involving thousands of dollars to millions.

Both Christian and Brubacher say such crimes take a long time to investigate because they are so intricate and involve moving assets to different accounts. The criminals are savvy.

Brubacher proves his point with one of the most recent high profile elder abuse cases in Marathon County. He says it took about 6 months to investigate the Laurie Goetsch case.

Earlier this year, Goetsch pleaded no contest to stealing $200,000 from her adoptive mother. Prosecutors say the 47-year-old was the victim's power of attorney and used the money to bond drug dealers out of jail. Goetsch was sentenced to 8 years behind bars and 12 years on extended supervision.

Several studies show caregivers start out in a good place with good intentions, but things can quickly spiral out of control.

Brubacher shares a startling statistic. He says, "There's a federal study shows seniors who are victims of financial crimes that don't get treatment or help - on average - they die in 6 months from the shame, guilt, and negative consequences."

So you may be wondering why there's a spike in elder abuse cases? There are actually a few reason it.

First, Christian says she feels it's the effects of the struggling economy. She says, "You have adults or grandchildren coming back into a situation and living in a home where their taking advantage of their parents or grandparents finances." That means they could be spending that cash with or without the victim's knowledge.

In addition to that, Brubacher says, thanks to education more people are aware of the situation and actually reporting it and law enforcement is better trained on how to investigate it.

Both Christian and Burbacher remind everyone that no matter the sitution don't hesistate to call 9-1-1.

Quick Facts:

Redflags to look for according to the National Committee of Preventing Elder Abuse:

- Unpaid bills, eviction notices, or notices to discontinue utilities
- Withdrawals from bank accounts or transfers between accounts that the older person cannot explain
- Bank statements and canceled checks no longer come to the elder's home
- New "best friends"
- Legal documents, such as powers of attorney, which the older person didn't understand at the time he or she signed them
- Unusual activity in the older person's bank accounts including large, unexplained withdrawals, frequent transfers between accounts, or ATM withdrawals
- The care of the elder is not commensurate with the size of his/her estate
- A caregiver expresses excessive interest in the amount of money being spent on the older person
- Belongings or property are missing
- Suspicious signatures on checks or other documents
- Absence of documentation about financial arrangements
- Implausible explanations given about the elderly person's finances by the elder or the caregiver
- The elder is unaware of or does not understand financial arrangements that have been made for him or her

NC7 has complied some helpful links. It shows place where you can get help, how to avoid becoming a victim, and what you should do if you suspect abuse. Check the gray box near the top of this page.

If you feel you or a loved one has been a victim of Elder Abuse and you'd like to share your story - email NC7 at 7investigates@wsaw.com or call (715)845-0077.

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