A comprehensive study of elder financial abuse found that the problem remains high in Southern Oregon.
The Department of Human Services Office of Adult Abuse Prevention and Investigation conducted a study of 400 cases throughout the state in the hope of painting a full picture of how the elderly are exploited and what they can do to protect themselves.
"Financial exploitation of individuals over the age of 65 and with physical disabilities is the most commonly investigated type of abuse that community adult protective services addresses in Oregon," said Marie Cervantes, director of OAAPI, in a news release.
The study found that financial exploitation in Oregon takes many forms aside from stolen money, including theft of medicine, jewelry, vehicles, real estate, food stamps, ATM cards and personal property.
Each of Oregon's counties was included in the study. In Southern Oregon, the most common type of elder abuse is theft of money. The second most common abuse is the theft of medicine, the study found.
The study lumped Jackson and Josephine counties together and found that the region has the second highest percentage of statewide financial elder abuse cases in the state, behind Multnomah County.
The region also has one of the highest percentages of residents over the age of 65.
Medford police Sgt. Brent Mak, who supervises the department's financial crimes division, said the region's demographics lead to a higher number of elder abuse cases.
"We have a large elderly population here," Mak said. "Unfortunately, we see that this population is a target of crimes."
What's most troubling for financial detectives is that most of the local crimes against elders are committed by family members, Mak said.
"You have sons and daughters stealing from their elderly parents," Mak said. "It's depressing because the victim is victimized twice — once when their money is stolen and once when they have to make the choice to prosecute a family member. This is very, very difficult for some elderly people, and it takes a toll on their quality of life."
Of particular concern are the crimes committed by people granted power of attorney over an elderly person. The study found that 13 percent of all cases involved a suspect who held power of attorney over the victim's financial and medical matters.
"When you grant someone power of attorney, you're putting a lot of trust in them," Mak said. "Sometimes they exploit this trust."
Medford police investigate between 20 and 30 felony mistreatment of the elderly cases per year. Sometimes the cases can involved hundreds of thousands of dollars, Mak said.
Elder abuse can also be charged as identity theft and forgery, Mak said.
One thing people could do to protect themselves is to have a check over the person to whom they grant power of attorney.
Medford financial investigators routinely give presentations at retirement communities to educate residents about options they have and what to do if they suspect they are victims of fraud.
"But the problem we run into is that these crimes can go on for a long time before we are notified," Mak said. "By then, it's difficult to recoup the money that's been stolen."
The oldest victim named in the study was 102.
"It can happen to anyone," Mak said. "One thing that we stress is taking care of financial matters well ahead of time so you are not rushing at the last minute to give someone power of attorney over your finances. We suggest maintaining and updating a will and living trusts."
Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or firstname.lastname@example.org.