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Tennessee's Most Under-Reported Crime

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"Elder financial abuse is the number one crime committed against senior citizens age 65 and older." ~The National Center on Elder Abuse

One of the most serious - but the least reported - crimes in Tennessee is financial elder abuse.

Important legal fact: Tennessee law requires anyone with knowledge of elder abuse, neglect, or financial exploitation to make a report to local law enforcement or to the Tennessee Department of Human Services.

DHS has an Adult Protective Services hotline number at 1-888-APS-TENN (1-888-277-8366). This phone line is staffed from 8:00 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. on weekdays, with voicemail after hours. Callers' identities are confidential.

  1. How frequently is elder abuse reported?

Very rarely. According to DHS, only about 1 out of every 23 cases of elder abuse gets reported. In other words, over 95 percent of elder abuse cases go unreported - and financial elder abuse is increasing.

  1. What is financial elder abuse?

Financial elder abuse happens when someone improperly or illegally uses the resources of an older person, without his or her consent, for someone else's benefit.

Here are some examples from the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse:

  • Taking money or property from an older person by theft or forgery.
  • Getting an older person to sign a deed, will, or power of attorney through deception, coercion, or undue influence.
  • Using the older person's property or possessions without permission.
  • Falsely promising lifelong care in exchange for money or property.
  • Telemarketing fraud such as bogus charity schemes, illegal sweepstakes, and false investments.
  • Door-to-door salespersons who convince elderly victims to pay for a new roof, driveway coating, or other 'home improvement.'

  1. Who is at risk for financial elder abuse?

These factors increase an older person's risk of being victimized:

  • Loneliness.
  • Recent losses.
  • Physical or mental disabilities.
  • Lack of familiarity with financial matters.
  • Family members who are unemployed and/or have substance abuse problems.

If you suspect elder abuse is happening, report it.

Note: Tennessee also allows civil lawsuits by or on behalf of elder victims against their financial abusers.

James B. (Jim) Hawkins is a Tennessee general practice and public interest law attorney. This column represents legal information, and is not intended to take the place of legal advice. All cases are different and need individual attention. Consult with a private attorney of your choice to review the facts and law specific to your case. To suggest future column topics, call (615) 452-9200.

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