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New task force aims to protect seniors from financial abuse and exploitation

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

Senior citizens are vulnerable to abuse, not only of their physical selves but also of their life's savings. This morning in Amherst, partners in a newly formed task force announced their mission to provide elderly individuals with assistance in cases of financial abuse and exploitation.

The model is called an Enhanced Multi-Disciplinary Team. It will bring public and private agencies together to provide senior citizens with the resources and assistance to investigate suspected financial exploitation, recover assets and, if it's deemed appropriate, prosecute those responsible.

Numerous public and private partners will participate in the task force, including the Erie County District Attorney's Office.

"It provides our senior citizens with a mechanism to come forward if they believe they've been a victim of financial abuse, if they've been robbed, if they've been embezzled from. Whatever the case may be," said District Attorney John Flynn.

Getting seniors to come forward is a significant challenge. Lifespan of Greater Rochester, which is providing funds to acquire an accountant and geriatric psychiatrist for Erie County's task force, conducted a recent in partnership with Cornell University and reported alarming numbers about elderly abuse cases.

"Two hundred and sixty thousand adults in New York State will be abused this year," said Ann Marie Cook, CEO of Lifespan of Greater Rochester. "Only one in 24 cases will ever get reported to any authority. The most prevalent form of abuse is financial exploitation."

The vast majority of perpetrators, advocates say, are family members. The reasons may range from needing money for drug purchases to a sense of entitlement. Karen Nicolson, CEO of the Center for Elder Law & Justice, spoke of the complicated emotions many seniors face when exploited by relatives.

Another challenge is overcoming those who will challenge whether the elderly victim should be taken seriously when they complain. Among the tricks exploiters will use is trying to convince authorities that their elderly relative lacks credibility because of a mental or physical condition.

"The perpetrators of these crimes are very savvy," Nicolson said. "They will actually use that to their advantage."

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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