Resources are available locally for senior citizens who could be victims of crimes and other abuse.
An average of between 70 and 100 reports of elder abuse a year are received by the Centre County Department of Aging, Director J.R. Reed said.
There are four types of elder abuse, Reed said: physical abuse, neglect, financial exploitation and abandonment.
Abandonment is when a caregiver leaves someone incapable of taking care of themselves and physical abuse can range from assault to sex offenses, Reed said. Neglect can be classified as one of two types: self-neglect or caregiver neglect. Instances of these are the most common reported locally and throughout the state, with the former being the most prevalent. Signs of abuse or neglect include social withdrawal, malnutrition, poor personal hygiene or physical indicators, such as bruises, cuts or untreated bed sores, Reed said.
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Of all reports received, only about 30 percent are substantiated, Reed said. The actual number of incidents is probably higher because some seniors are reluctant to report abuse, he added.
Oftentimes, relatives or someone known to the person are behind the abuse and the senior may not want to report the incidents because they don’t want to get the person in trouble, Reed said. Other reasons for not reporting abuse are fears of caregiver retaliation or loss of independence, he said. Anyone that thinks they might be the victim of or know someone suffering from elder abuse should contact his office or their local police department, Reed said.
A growing trend both statewide and locally is an increase in financial exploitation, with larger amounts of assets being taken per incident, Reed said. It’s on track to become the second most prominent form of elder abuse, he added. Someone taking advantage of a power of attorney or a family member inappropriately accessing a bank account would fall under this type of abuse.
Another form of financial exploitation that often targets senior citizens are phone scams, and these have been seen locally, State College police Officer Kelly Aston said.
Seniors are often targeted because they may not be tech savvy or aware of the types of scams going on, might have a nest egg or finances available, and come from a more trusting generation, Aston said. The trend of seniors underreporting criminal activity is another factor making them potential targets.
A prevalent one recently involves a scammer pretending to be an IRS representative demanding payment, she said. A practice called “caller ID spoofing” makes the scams appear more legitimate, Aston said. Scammers can mask their phone numbers to appear as though a call is coming from a government agency, such as the IRS, or from a bank.
Other types of scams include what is called the “heartstring scam,” where a caller pretends to be a family member in need requesting money, she said. Red flags that a scammer is on the other end of the line would be any kind of pressure to provide personal information or money immediately or threats, she said. One should never give out personal information over the phone or through email, Aston said.
“The No. 1 thing to do is stop, evaluate what’s happening and take your time, hang up and review it with someone you trust,” Aston said. “If you can’t think of anyone to review it with, call your local police department and we’ll go over it with you and go from there.”