Office of Aging educates seniors about financial abuse through H-FAST

October 16, 2012

HOUSTON — The Archdiocesan Office of Aging Ministry recognizes the gifts and needs of senior adults and responds with resources and programs to enhance these years of their lives. Through ongoing activities the office serves as a resource to parishes around the Archdiocese that offer senior adult ministry.

The office also works to educate seniors on topics that affect them. The ministry has partnered with several agencies, including the Better Business Bureau Education Foundation, to have monthly meetings as part of the Houston Financial Abuse Specialist Team, which is a network of professionals dedicated to educating families and service providers about prevention, detection and investigation of financial exploitation.

According to the organization's website, financial exploitation is the third most common form of elder abuse. Victims may be robbed of the economic foundation for their independence and may suffer psychological distress. Unfortunately, because most cases are never reported, it is difficult to determine how many seniors are affected, but estimates suggest that there may be millions of older adults who experience financial abuse each year.

Kathy Bingham, Director of the Archdiocesan Office of Aging, said their monthly meetings cover a wide-range of topics, including latest scams, bank fraud, caregiver exploitation, family exploitation, what law enforcement needs in evidence to pursue a case, how and when to make a report, etc.

"[The purpose of the meetings is to] provide educational speakers on topics related to elders and the situations that occur that may lead to financial abuse or exploitation," Bingham said. "Generally we discuss cases that may involve financial exploitation and offer suggestions on next steps or how to handle or refer a case; you missed that aspect with this meeting."

Bingham said the meetings began about five years ago with Candice Twyman, coordinator for H-FAST and Executive Director of the BBB Education Foundation, and Dr. Carmel Dyer, a geriatrician currently with UT. Attendees usually include nonprofit providers serving older adults, private geriatric care managers, adult protective services, the district attorney's office, elder law attorneys, sometimes the FBI fraud unit, the U.S. Postal Service mail fraud unit, the sheriff's office and others interested in protecting older adults from financial exploitation.

The group meets once a month at St. Dominic Center. For more information on the organization, visit www.h-fast.orgor call the Office of Aging Ministry at 713-741-8712.

What are the signs of financial or material exploitation?
- Sudden changes in bank account or banking practice, including an unexplained withdrawal of large sums of money by a person accompanying the elder.
- The inclusion of an elder’s name on a bank signature card.
- Unauthorized withdrawal of the elder’s funds using the elder’s ATM card.
- Abrupt changes in a will or other documents.
- Unexplained disappearance of funds or valuable possessions.
- Substandard care being provided or bills unpaid despite the availability of adequate financial resources.
- Discovery of an elder’s signature being forged for financial transactions or for the title of his/her possessions.
- Sudden appearance of previously uninvolved relatives claiming their rights to an elder’s affairs and possessions.
- Unexplained sudden transfer of assets to a family member or someone outside the family.
- The provision of services that is not necessary.
- An elder’s report of financial exploitation.