Piles of one dollar bills

Law enforcement and aging service agencies in both Michigan and Pennsylvania have launched aggressive new efforts to curb financial exploitation of seniors, including those living in nursing homes.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office has created a new complaint system that creates a direct line between nursing home facility administrators and the state’s Healthcare Fraud Division. Nursing home leaders are being tasked with reporting warning signs of potential financial exploitation of residents, Nessel announced.

Under the initiative, the department will “refresh” its partnership with the Social Security Administration to identify instances of embezzlement from vulnerable adults in nursing homes. The effort will begin with a key financial exploitation scheme.

Specifically, if concerned nursing home staff believes someone is using a nursing home resident’s assets or benefits for purposes other than care, or on the needs and wishes of the resident, a complaint should be made through a new, online portal. Nessel said if a facility knows a resident has a stream of income, but their patient account is in the red, it may be a warning sign that someone is siphoning away the patient’s assets. 

“That concern can be reported via this portal directly to our team to evaluate for investigation,” she said.

The new crime prevention and enforcement efforts have been developed under the state’s 3-year-old Elder Abuse Task Force, which is behind efforts to increase reporting requirements for financial institutions and to refer cases of financial exploitation to local prosecutors.

The Department of Attorney General’s Health Care Fraud Division receives most of its funding from the US Department of Health and Human Services and the test from the State of Michigan.

Pennsylvania anti-scam efforts

Pennsylvania efforts, meanwhile, focus enforcement efforts on protecting the state’s senior population in general.

The Pennsylvania Department of Aging launched a new investigative unit to address financial exploitation of seniors under a two-year, $600,000 federal grant. It was unclear Thursday what share of its work would involve nursing home residents.

A four-person Financial Abuse Specialist Team evolved from a pilot program that began with the hiring of a retired state trooper with expertise in financial exploitation investigations, according to published reports. Secretary of Aging Robert Torres reported that nearly $3 million in assets have been “protected” from such scams as property theft, misuse of income or assets, misuse of power of attorney, Social Security or IRS ruses, fake charities, gift card scams, pension poaching and more.

A study commissioned through Gov. Tom Wolf  (D) concluded that the average financial loss to each victim in the study was almost $40,000, totaling close to $12.5 million in the cases reviewed in the study alone.

The Department of Aging recently unveiled a financial exploitation website.

According to Consumer Affairs, reports of financial crimes against the elderly are on the rise. More than 3.5 million older adults are victims of financial exploitation each year in excess of $3 billion. Average losses from such scams are more than $34,000.

California leads all states with elder fraud, notching more than $10 million a year in losses. Other leading states (in decreasing order) include New York, Texas, Illinois and Florida, according to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.