Interview with Valarie Colmore from Maryland DHS, Adult Protective Services Program
1. Why is protecting older Americans from financial exploitation important to you and your organization?
Protecting older Marylanders is a core mission of Maryland Department of Human Services’ Adult Protective Services Program (APS). Our Adult Protective Services team serves people aged 18 or over who lack the physical or mental capacity to provide for their daily needs. Each and every day, we aim to prevent and remedy the abuse, neglect, self-neglect, or exploitation of adults who are unable to protect their own interests and are at risk of immediate harm to themselves or to others. Through collaborative efforts with community partners and stakeholders at the local, state, and federal levels, our caseworkers provide support to vulnerable adults so that they can remain safely within their own homes and to reduce further risk factors or harm. Together, we ensure that our statewide Adult Protective Services team has the tools, resources, and training needed to help reduce instances and reoccurrences of abuse, such as financial exploitation. These combined efforts also assist in the legal prosecution of individuals who commit crimes against Maryland’s vulnerable adults.
As a member of the baby boomer generation and as a professional, daughter, and granddaughter, protecting older Americans from financial exploitation is an ever-present reality for me. For those of us in a protective services field, you realize how vulnerable and susceptible we all are to some form of abuse, neglect, or financial exploitation. For example, you may witness an older relative, loved one, or friend beginning to decline or exhibit signs of a physical or mental impairment which may hinder their ability to manage simple everyday tasks, such as dressing, bathing, meal preparation or managing finances appropriately without assistance. At times, you may feel helpless as a family member to provide support while encouraging them to maintain a certain level of independence. Many people may experience similar situations, and it is important that the public is aware of the various services available to them. For these reasons, both personally and professionally, I welcome every opportunity to share prevention tips that can help reduce the chances of vulnerable adults becoming victims of financial exploitation or fraud.
2. What is your office doing to support the mission of PROTECT Week?
The Maryland Department of Human Services is a state agency partner for this year’s campaign to further promote PROTECT Week activities and events. As a state agency partner, our agency’s social media platforms feature information supporting the PROTECT Week campaign, as well as other relative information and resources about protecting the elderly from abuse and neglect, such as an Adult Protective Services Program flyer titled “Protect Your Seniors: Know the Signs of Elder Abuse.” In addition, our 24 local departments of social services are conducting awareness initiatives throughout their respective jurisdictions.
3. Do you have any first or secondhand experience with financial exploitation that motivates you to participate in PROTECT Week?
Yes, as a former APS Investigator working at a local department of social services, I was assigned to investigate numerous cases of financial exploitation involving the elderly where someone was taking advantage of their money. These types of cases often involved conducting several in-person home visits with the victim to build a professional relationship of trust. When criminal intent was evident, I would make a report to the local law enforcement agency and the State’s Attorney Office to conduct a criminal investigation and, when appropriate, pursue criminal charges against the alleged perpetrator.
The same fervent determination that motivated me as a former APS Investigator many years ago to seek justice and protect vulnerable adult victims from harm and danger has remained with me to this day. This year’s PROTECT Week campaign serves as a constant, powerful reminder that older adults have the right to be safe and that we all should strive to treat them with dignity, care, and respect.
4. Do you have tips you want to share to help older Americans protect themselves from financial abuse?
Most of the financial exploitation that occurs within the older adult population often goes unreported or is undetected, especially if an older adult lives alone or is isolated from family and friends. Once an older adult realizes that he or she is being financially exploited, they may be too ashamed, embarrassed, or afraid to let someone know that this financial abuse has happened to them. Listed below are a few warning signs to keep in mind when it comes to recognizing and reporting suspected financial exploitation. If any of these warning signs are present, please call the local APS office to make a report. In Maryland, this information can be obtained by going to the Maryland Department of Human Services’ website at http://www.dhs.maryland.gov/ or by calling 1-800-917-7383.
Warning Signs – Recognizing and Reporting Suspected Financial Exploitation:
- Unauthorized withdrawals of the older adult’s funds using their ATM card
- Abrupt changes in a Will, Power of Attorney (POA), or other financial documents
- An unexplained sudden transfer of assets to a family member, friend, paid caregiver, or someone outside of the family
- Sudden changes in bank accounts or banking practices, including an unexplained withdrawal of large sums of money by a person accompanying the older adult to the bank
- Complaints of (or confusion about) stolen or misplaced credit cards, valuables, checkbooks, or retirement checks from either the older adult or the new person in their life
- The care provider — whether a family member, paid employee, or friend — seems to be “living off” the older person
- A lack of amenities (food, medical care, clothing, outings, etc.) that the older adult could normally afford
Safety Tips for Preventing Financial Exploitation:
- Do not give personal information over the phone, such as your Social Security or Medicare Number or other account information, to someone that you do not know.
- Use direct deposit for all checks and annually request a copy of your credit report information to examine.
- Review your Will periodically if you have one in place.
- Stay active in the community and connected with friends and family. This will decrease social isolation, which has been connected to elder abuse and neglect.
- Tell someone you trust if a family member, friend, or paid caregiver is asking you for money, to pay a bill for them, or wants you to sign over property or assets in their name.
- Do not sign any financial or other legal documents that you do not understand. Consider consulting with a financial advisor or attorney before signing any documents.
- Trust your gut feeling. People that exploit older adults and abuse their trust are often very skilled, charming, and convincing individuals. They will seek to gain and take over control of your finances. Don’t be fooled — if something doesn’t feel right, it may not be right. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.