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Special Report: How to protect your elderly family members as financial abuse rises

Special Report: How to protect your elderly family members as financial abuse rises

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More scammers are taking advantage of your loved ones in Wisconsin. The number of financial abuse cases against the elderly is on the rise.

Milwaukee resident 86-year-old Lawyer Story is just one of thousands of elderly who have become a victim of financial exploitations. Story got a phone call from a scammer saying he won millions but had to pay the taxes on his winnings, but the call was a scam.

“’Didn’t no one put a gun to my head, but I thought it was true,” Story said.

The scammers convinced Story to deposit over $20,000 into several specific accounts at a local bank.

“People don't know how it makes you feel when you work hard for your money and you see someone else got it,” Story said.

The Wisconsin Department of Justice reports 5,101 seniors were financially exploited between 2013 and 2016. There have been several cases in the area including a Milwaukee couple that officials say got their elderly neighbor to sign over her house and took control of her $2M in savings.

In West Allis, a woman was being investigated for writing checks up to about $52,000 from her elderly neighbor’s checkbooks.

But, many cases are not reported. According to the Department of Justice, only one in 44 cases is reported.

“It's disheartening to see folks who have worked all their lives, to make sure they're protected in retirement fall victim,” said Liz Oettiker of the Milwaukee Department on Aging, Elder Abuse Unit.

Milwaukee Department on Aging has seen a 20 percent increase in financial abuse cases from 2016 to 2017.

“What we find is that elderly folks who are isolated, family might be far away, or they're developing cognitive or physical or cognitive impairments and are more reliant on others, they're at significant risks for these types of exploitation,” Oettiker said.

The problem could continue to grow. Wisconsin state officials estimate that 115,000 people had dementia in 2015 and by 2040 that number could grow to 242,000.

“More seniors are online. They're having Facebook accounts, they're using email and they're on places where scammers and crooks can get access to them,” Attorney General Brad Schimel said.

Attorney General Schimel has launched an elder abuse task force bringing multiple agencies together to combat the problem.

“We're all working together to see how can we make the laws function better, how can we improve the ability of the criminal justice system,  to investigate and prosecute when seniors are being taken advantage of,” Schimel said.

One of the goals of the task force is to speak up when people see someone being taken advantage of.

"Elderly parents, grandparents, it's important to stay connected with them. Talk with them about what's happening, about their relationships and things like that,” Schimel said.

The state has established a hotline to report abuse at 1-800-488-3780. Officials also suggest the best way to prevent financial exploitation is making yourself or someone close to you a power of attorney.

Oettiker suggests looking out for these warning signs:

  • A sudden new caregiver or friend that spends a significant amount of time with them
  • Missed bill payments
  • Large ATM withdrawals
  • A significant number of checks made out to cash
  • Deed transfers
  • Abrupt increases in credit card activity

Milwaukee residents can also call the Aging Resource Center of Milwaukee County: (414) 289-6874 to report abuse, in addition to the state hotline.

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