Editor's note: This is the third in a three-part series on senior scams.
MANSFIELD — Cracking down on scammers isn’t a one-person job.
It requires an all-hands-on-deck approach, which is exactly the method that agencies and organizations in Richland County are taking to stop and prevent elder exploitation from occurring.
One of the key agencies that plays a vital role in responding to cases of elder exploitation is Adult Protective Services.
Adult Protective Services helps vulnerable adults 60 and over who are in danger of harm, unable to protect themselves and may have no one to assist them. Richland County Job and Family Services oversees the local program.
According to Richland County APS caseworker Karen Kepple, exploitation generally occurs without the victim knowing and it typically affects those who are unable to tend to their own finances.
Cases often involve people whom the victim trusts, including family members, friends and caregivers, though in many other cases the perpetrator is someone off the street.
Kepple described a scenario in which a woman was exploited by a stranger.
“Someone she didn’t know offered her something for her home and she went with it, but we were able to get that stopped and actually the police were involved and the (perpetrator) was arrested,” Kepple said.
APS investigates home incidents and is not to be confused with ombudsmen — specially trained advocates who seek to resolve complaints on behalf of residents in long-term care facilities, including assisted living, adult foster care and skilled nursing facilities.
In a six-month period, APS received roughly 300 phone calls, about 28 percent of which were related to issues of exploitation.
These numbers seem to indicate exploitation is on the rise; however as Lori Bedson, assistant director at Richland County JFS, noted, it’s unclear if this is a growing trend of if there’s an increased awareness of Adult Protective Services and less cases are going unreported.
If you suspect that a person may be subject to exploitation, contact Richland County Adult Protective Services’ hotline at 419-774-5473. All calls are anonymous.
There’s no black-and-white approach when responding to cases of exploitation, according to Kepple.
“The plan is tailored to fit whatever the situation is,” she said. “We will do our home visit in a timely manner, we'll assess it, we'll discuss it, and then together we decide what we need to pull in — what resources or what people.”
One of the first steps to remedying cases of elder abuse or exploitation is getting family members involved.
"That's where it starts is by bringing family in," Kepple said.
In many situations, victims and/or their caregivers are at a loss of what to do and where to go for assistance.
"We find that in a lot of cases people just don't know where to start, so if we can get in there and show them resources or give them the information, we're willing to help them along the road as long as it takes,” Kepple said.
And it’s not just Adult Protective Services that’s willing to help. Several others assist in providing individuals with the help they need — from law enforcement and court officials, to medical professionals, social service agencies and more.
APS, for instance, works with the Area Agency on Aging to connect individuals with necessary services and resources.
“It’s awesome because if we do a home visit and the person is willing or wants some other services, we can schedule an assessment for them (with the Area Agency on Aging) or we can work with their caseworker,” said Richland County APS caseworker Joy Bulakovski.
In other instances, APS involves local nurses and/or doctors to help diagnose individuals who may be in need of medical assistance.
Sgt. Matt Loughman with the Mansfield Police Department illustrated the effectiveness of teamwork. He said in January 2017 he worked with APS when responding to an elder exploitation case in which a woman was scammed out of over $20,000.
“It was a great help because a lot of times Adult Protective Services has a lot of knowledge, especially in dealing with the elderly, where they can come up with questions or different things that maybe I didn’t know about,” he said.
The perpetrator was wanted all over the east coast for exploitation and ultimately was located and arrested.
Loughman said KeyBank also played a role in helping catch the criminal by notifying APS of a possible scam.
“We wouldn’t have known about this if not for KeyBank,” he said.
Prior to his promotion to sergeant, Loughman was the family liaison investigator for the MPD. As part of his duties, he responded to financial crimes against the elderly, he said. During his time in this role (four years), he said there were a couple large exploitation cases that came to the detective bureau.
“A lot of those cases are handled at the patrol level, but when it gets up to tens of thousands of dollars, that’s when we (the detective bureau) get involved,” he said.
Sometimes people call the police to report suspected elder abuse or exploitation, Loughman said.
“If we believe that there’s something going on, we’ll contact Adult Protective Services to help get this person the services that they need, either financial or if they can’t take care of themselves,” he said. “They’ll help them get the resources they need to help make sure they’re OK.”
Starting Sept. 29 of this year, the state is adding categories of individuals and entities that have “reasonable cause to believe that an adult is being abused, neglected, or exploited, or is in a condition which is the result of abuse, neglect, or exploitation” to the list of those required to report such belief to the county department of job and family services, according to Ohio Revised Code 5101.63.
“There's a list of mandatory reporters currently under the Ohio Revised Code which includes folks like nurses, doctors, medical health professionals, attorneys, social workers and various other categories,” said Richland County Probate Judge Philip Mayer. “The law has been amended, and effective Sept. 29, 2018, there's a much more comprehensive group of folks that have mandatory report obligations.”
Added to the list are pharmacists, dialysis technicians, real estate brokers, certified public accountants, firefighters, among others.
As a service to the community, professionals from Richland County APS are available to speak and present information to local organizations and community partners regarding abuse, neglect, and exploitation. Presentations can be designed to fit your needs and may include opportunities for activities and questions.
Likewise, Judge Mayer, who is a member of the Statewide Adult Protective Services Advisory Committee, is happy to impart his knowledge of adult protective services to others.
“I welcome anybody to reach out,” he said. “I think part of the job of a judge who's elected by the folks in the county is to educate.”
Mayer is involved in training and appointing guardians through his work in probate court.
According to the Richland County Probate Court website, guardians are meant to protect, make decisions for, and act for a person in need of a guardian. A guardian may be appointed either as a guardian of the person, a guardian of the estate, or both.
Mayer is serious about ensuring the protection of those most vulnerable and is excited to see efforts being done to aid in this endeavor.
This includes the formation of the local interdisciplinary team (I-Team).
In 2015, the state began requiring counties to form I-Teams to enhance adult protective services with such members as APS caseworkers, the authorities and social service and legal representatives.
“Seeing it develop — we still got a ways to go — but it's exciting, and I think it'll provide a much higher level of service to our people who require it and keep them in a position where their money's (secure), and they’re not being exploited,” Mayer said.
He hopes to see the I-Team expand to include representatives of many different fields, that way “you have the people who provide specific services together that can review a situation and maybe instead of having to go to court and get an adult protective service order from me, the judge, they’ll do it voluntarily because things are working better.”
Richland County JFS director Sharlene Neumann shares Mayer’s sentiments and looks forward to the group’s continued progress.
“Our focus has been training,” Neumann said. “I think our next step will be to literally get in a room and work through cases before something happens, so that is going to be kind of a philosophy change where we’ll combine training, as well as a team of people working the actual cases. Right now it's more we get the referral and then we are contacting people and reacting.
“This is more of a proactive approach, and I think that's our future.”