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Can Doctors Protect Retirees From Fraud?

By some estimates, the elderly lose almost $3 billion a year to financial exploitation, including scams by strangers and theft by caregivers and relatives. But a new program designed to prevent the phenomenon appears to be getting results, according to the nonprofit that funds the program.

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Since its launch in 2009, the Elder Investment Fraud and Financial Exploitation (EIFFE) program has trained more than 3,000 doctors across the country “to spot the impaired mental capacity that can leave seniors vulnerable to financial abuse,” according to the Investor Protection Trust, a nonprofit dedicated to investor education that finances EIFFE.

During visits with elderly patients, the doctors ask questions including:

  • Who manages your money day to day? How is that going?
  • Do you run out of money at the end of the month?
  • Do you regret or worry about financial decisions you have recently made?
  • Have you given power of attorney to another person?
  • Do you have a will? Has anyone asked you to change it?

When medical professionals discover potential problems, they can make referrals to family members, state and local agencies including Adult Protective Services departments, and professionals including geriatric care managers and elder law attorneys.

“There are different levels of referrals, depending on what they observe,” says Don Blandin, president and CEO of the Investor Protection Trust. “Part of what we do in our training program is show doctors what is required in their states.”

Since the launch of a pilot program in Texas in 2009, the EIFFE program has trained 3,010 physicians in 26 states, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. Another 3,000 are expected to be trained over the next year, says Blandin. With the upcoming introduction of an online version of the course, “I suspect the number will jump to 15,000 medical professionals,” he says, adding that organizations representing pharmacists, dentists and other health-care professionals have also expressed interest in participating.

So far, the program seems to be working. Of the 67 physicians who gave permission to be contacted six months after completing the pilot course, 55% have used the screening tools and “many described having found patients deemed vulnerable enough to warrant referral,” says Blandin.  He says the program will soon survey more of the course’s alumni.

Meanwhile, a new survey by the Investor Protection Trust and the Investor Protection Institute, indicates that financial swindles targeting older Americans are a bigger problem today than ever before.

According to an earlier Investor Protection Trust survey, more than 7 million older Americans — one out of every five citizens over the age of 65 — already have been victimized by a financial swindle.  The MetLife Mature Market Institute estimates elders lose $2.9 billion each year to financial exploitation, up from $2.6 billion in 2009.

“Elder financial abuse is not only about financial exploitation: It is a major public health problem,” says Dr. Mark Lachs, a professor of medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, who worked on the new survey. “When older Americans are financially exploited and there are no resources left for their care, these individuals effectively become wards of the state. In these cases, all Americans end up paying. This is a major problem and we know there is significant underreporting.”

The new survey polled 756 people who work with or have oversight over elderly investors, including state securities regulators, financial planners, health-care professionals, social workers, law enforcement officials and elder-law attorneys.

Among the findings:

  • Three out of four experts said that such swindles are a “very serious” problem.
  • 78% said older Americans are very vulnerable to investment fraud and financial exploitation.
  • The top three financial exploitation problems identified by the experts are (1) “theft or diversion of funds or property by family members” (79 percent); (2) “theft or diversion of funds or property by caregivers” (49 percent); and (3) “financial scams perpetrated by strangers” (47 percent).


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    • My husband was diagnosed with cancer two years ago and been in hospitals and receiving chemo all this time. Being an attorney he was stunned to discover the extent of fraud by the hospitals and clinics. He has fought back and has succeeded in getting money back for his insurance companies for unneeded procedures, services he did not receive, overcharging, etc. Sometimes the overcharges are just an oversight but most of the extraneous charges were intentional. Unless patients fight back these hospitals are going to keep getting away with the theft. I do agree with the article that counseling services could help. By the way the instances we found were not perpetrated by his immediate doctors but the medical administrators of hospitals and clinics.

    • I think it might be a better idea for financial advisers to keep an eye on doctors committing financial fraud on their clients, quite frankly.

    • The Bar Association in Greene County told me as the result of my complaint that I sent them regarding how easy it was for my brother and sister in law to steal my mothers assets nearly $800,000 was taken right before she passed away in 2009. They told me in their response that “nothing unethical was found” because I did not file a civil case and that police did not make any changes.”

      The head of the committee told me in my phone call to her that ” this is being done all the time now and the attorney did nothing wrong’!
      He represented my deceased mother and he also reprsented my brother who also died in April 2011…karma! Plus there was nothing wrong in NOT telling the presiding judge in Probate case my mothter was blind, profoundly hard of hearing and had Alzhiemer’s Disease! I am not making this up and will share these documents with anyone that would like to read them.
      NO Wonder this is called an INDUSTRY OF EXLPOITATION of the Elderly.

About Encore

  • Encore examines the changing nature of retirement, from new rules and guidelines for financial security to the shifting identities and priorities of today’s retirees. The blog also explores news that affects retirement, from the Wall Street Journal Digital Network and around the web. Lead bloggers are reporter Catey Hill and senior editor Jeremy Olshan. Other contributors include The Wall Street Journal’s retirement columnists Glenn Ruffenach and Anne Tergesen; the Director for the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, Alicia Munnell; and the Director of Research for Pinnacle Advisory Group, Michael Kitces, CFP.