In January, a member of the local law enforcement community reached out to me asking for any materials or handouts we can give him so he could distribute them to older residents in his community to try and stop them from being scammed.

Louis was frustrated, concerned and doing his absolute best to protect our older adults from a serious and underreported problem: exploitation.

One of the primary responsibilities of the Area Agency on Aging is Older Adult Protective Services. Abuse, neglect and exploitation cases are some of the most difficult cases we see each year.

Last year, our office investigated 531 protective services cases. Those investigations resulted in 294 substantiated cases in need of serious interventions. A significant number of those cases also needed law enforcement to step in and act as well.

All these acts are horrendous, but the one happening right in front of all of us is exploitation. In September, the Department of Aging released a study showing the impacts of exploitation. From the sample we learned the average age of the victim is 79, 61% are female, 45% are widowed and 43% live alone.

We all know this person. They live by us, shop with us, talk to us and exchange “hellos” with us daily. What we don’t realize is 65% of them are possibly being exploited by their families. Older children make up 42% of that statistic. The average loss of each of these victims is somewhere around $40,000 and the total loss for the victims sampled was $12.5 million.

Collectively older Pennsylvanians suffered $58 million in losses in 2017-18. These were the reported cases; it is estimated that only one in 10 to one in 44 cases are ever even reported. The estimated total losses for older adults are $2.5 billion. While some of these victims have means, most do not. The true impact on our Medicaid system isn’t really known because exploitation is so vastly underreported.

On the last Monday of each month, the Elder Justice Multidisciplinary Team gathers. Representative from the Area Agency on Aging, the district attorney’s office, local banks, the ombudsman, Lackawanna Pro Bono, Women’s Resource Center, the Department of Healt, and the Wright Center are just a few of the regular attendees at the table discussing local cases and trying to make decisions to protect, educate and improve the services for older adults in our community. Credit really needs to be given to the people we see daily working at local banks, pharmacies, post offices and many other places who are watching out for older residents. They call us, they try and intervene, they know when something “just isn’t right.” These people know their customers, and they care.

This issue, like senior isolation, will impact someone we know. We need to be vigilant and proactive.

For our older adult readers, please call us if you aren’t sure of something. Don’t pay the taxes on a prize, don’t send money to someone or somewhere you are unfamiliar, don’t give out your information over the phone. Most importantly, please talk to someone you trust if you have any suspicions. There is no judgment or need to be embarrassed, we need to hear your story to help.

Jason Kavulich is the director of the Lackawanna County Area Agency on Aging. For more information regarding programs and services, please contact the agency at 570-963-6740.

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