Behind the Headlines: How is elder abuse being addressed?

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Q. How big of a problem is financial exploitation of seniors and other elder abuse in Routt County and how does it compare with other counties?

A. Financial exploitation in Routt County is a huge concern and a problem in our county. Unfortunately, because ElderWatch is a fairly new idea in our county and in other counties, we don't have statistics to give an exact number. AARP estimates that more than $40 billion per year is lost through scams and fraud.

Law enforcement agencies list financial exploitation as one of the most under-reported crimes in society. The Colorado Attorney General's Office is working hard to gather statistics on these crimes.

In order to eventually have firm statistics on crimes against our elderly, people need to report any concerns or crimes they know about to the hot line at 1-800-222-4444. The Attorney General's Office will then report any crime that requires law enforcement involvement and affects our county to our local law enforcement agencies and we will take it from there.

The AARP ElderWatch database will, for the first time, give us the ability to track trends and develop statewide statistics on financial elder abuse.

Q. What are the most common types of financial exploitation seniors face?

A. The most common types of financial exploitation our seniors face are:

Caregivers financially exploiting the elder they are assisting, home improvement scams, telemarketing scams, sweepstake scams, lottery scams, pyramid scams, identity theft and false charities.

Having seniors get on the Colorado no-call list greatly reduces the number of phone calls they receive for these types of schemes, thus aiding in eliminating the crime from happening. The no-call list phone number is 1-888-249-9097 or visit www.coloradonocall.com.

Q. How much of a commitment has the Routt County Sheriff's Office made to the ElderWatch program in terms of staffing and budgeting, and why?

A. We are very committed and it is one of our top priorities. Our office has committed one deputy, me, to split my time between ElderWatch and D.A.R.E. All of our patrol deputies have been trained in what to look for regarding elder abuse and also play an important role in the ElderWatch Program. Our deputies are all involved in taking the initial reports of crimes against our elders and they often make visits to our elderly residents on their day-to-day patrols. We have not, as of yet, budgeted for this program, but will rely on donations, as we do for the D.A.R.E. program. We feel the senior population is an important part of our community and that they deserve to be protected. We can do this through a team effort of our community and law enforcement working together.

Q. What are the future plans for ElderWatch in Routt County? And how can we reach out to seniors?

A. Our future plans are to continue efforts to educate our community and the elderly on what to watch out for, to build a group of seniors to visit on a regular basis, and to stop crime against the elderly in our community with help from an educated community.

Awareness is the key to stopping these crimes against our elderly. We can reach out to our seniors by word of mouth, simply taking the time to talk to a senior neighbor and find out what is going on in their lives.

The sheriff's office plans to visit clubs and organizations in town to spread the word about ElderWatch. We hope to have community forums in Steamboat, West Routt, North Routt and South Routt to aid us in this process. We plan to have regular public-service announcements on the radio and in the newspaper as well.

Q. What are the signs that a senior is being financially exploited and what can residents do when they think this is occurring?

A. Some signs to look for are: large amounts of mail being delivered to their house, sweepstakes forms being mailed out by the elder or their bank accounts being depleted more than usual. (Elderly people usually spend about the same amount of money each month on a fixed income, so people with access to their accounts should be able to notice if a large amount of money is withdrawn or a check is written to an unknown party.) Other signs include the elder becoming withdrawn and unwilling to talk about their finances, having unpaid bills, or anything that seems out of the "norm" for that senior.

Not only can family members watch for these signs, but banks and the post office also can watch for unusual activity.

If a resident or bank or post office employee is concerned that unusual activity is occurring, report your concerns immediately to the AARP ElderWatch hot line at 1-800-222-4444. From there, it will go to law enforcement agencies to be investigated. Without a team effort, we will not be able to protect our seniors.

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