An elder abuse team at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) is partnering with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, district attorneys, law enforcement agencies, and forensic accounting professionals to make it easier to identify and prosecute individuals who prey on senior citizens to exploit them financially.
The UTHealth Texas Elder Abuse and Mistreatment (TEAM) Institute is the academic coordinator leading the effort to enhance Texas Adult Protective Services’ (APS) financial exploitation investigations and client services. Other partners in the project include the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, Harris County Senior Justice Assessment Center, and forensic accountants from Eide Bailly LLP.
According to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, older Americans are vulnerable to financial exploitation in part due to the trend toward defined contribution retirement savings plans. Defined contribution plans, such as a 401(k) or IRA, place more responsibility on elders to manage their money at a time when the health and cognitive effects of aging may affect their ability to do so.
“Senior financial exploitation is a national epidemic with heavy consequences for seniors including financial ruin, loss of financial independence, reduced quality of life, and increased risk for mortality,” said Jason Burnett, PhD, co-director of the TEAM Institute and a member of the UTHealth Consortium on Aging. “There is a need for more robust and coordinated responses by social services, forensic accounting, law enforcement agencies, and the courts to protect Texas seniors.”
The three-year grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Community Living will allow the TEAM Institute and collaborators to enhance APS’ training curriculum for caseworkers to investigate claims of financial exploitation and provide statewide access to forensic accountants to assist with investigations – an unprecedented service in Texas, according to Burnett.
The enhanced training curriculum, along with access to forensic accountant professionals and a new protocol for reporting senior financial exploitation to law enforcement and the courts, will be implemented statewide after the three-year trial.
“Investigating financial exploitation is extremely complex and often requires specialized skills to build strong cases and robust responses. Through these agency collaborations, we expect to be able to build stronger cases leading to better protection of Texas seniors,” Burnett said. “This is an exciting study because it will have a statewide impact for all Texas seniors who become victims of financial exploitation whose cases are reported to APS.”