Source: Carol McAlice Currie, Statesman Journal

A grandson overdraws his grandmother’s checking account to conceal a gambling addiction.

A nursing-facility caregiver obtains a credit card in a senior-facility resident’s name and then charges more than $6,500 without the resident’s knowledge.

An 88-year-old retiree is duped into believing he had won a large prize that he could collect just by paying a tax and delivery fee.

These are a few examples of financial exploitation of the elderly in Oregon, and the number of cases in the state are on the rise according to a study released today by the Office of Adult Abuse Prevention and Investigation, which is part of the state Department of Human Services.

The new study, which analyzed 419 investigative reports written in 2011, concluded that family members were responsible for victimizing the elderly or disabled in 55 percent of the reported cases, said Christian Hale, the OAAPI investigator of financial exploitation.

Perpetrators typically included spouses, children, siblings and grandchildren. The second most common perpetrator was an acquaintance followed closely by non-related caregivers.

The increase in cases has been closely followed by Oregon Rep. Vic Gilliam (R-Silverton), who has helped sponsor and push legislation this year and last to better protect seniors and people with physical disabilities against these types of crimes.

It’s expected that Gilliam, who was out of the country at press time, can use information contained in the new study to shine a spotlight on financial exploitation, which is defined as involving cash, theft of medication, jewelry, vehicles, real estate, food-stamp benefits, ATM cards and other personal property.

Gilliam, was the chief sponsor, along with House Majority Leader Val Hoyle (D-West Eugene) and Sen. Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose), of House Bill 2205, which was signed by Gov. John Kitzhaber in June.

The measure added members of the Legislative Assembly, attorneys, dentists, optometrists and chiropractors to the list of public and private officials required to report abuse of persons 65 and older beginning in January 2015.

Gilliam also helped propel House Bill 4084 in 2012, which increased the statute of limitation from three to six years for the crimes of theft 1, aggravated theft, robbery 1-3, forgery, identify theft, and fraudulent use of a credit card when the victim is 65 years old or older.

It also required health care providers to allow law enforcement agencies to inspect elderly patients’ medical records without a patient’s consent if conducting investigation of abuse of an elderly person.

And it protects health care providers from civil or criminal liability for disclosure and requires financial institutions to turn over financial records of elderly persons to law enforcement without consent of elderly person or of person’s guardian in an investigation.

Gilliam’s legislative assistant, Betsy Schultz, said that currently in Oregon, there are various definitions of “elder abuse,” and they can change in meaning and application, depending on the situation and context. This creates confusion among law enforcement and other reporters of abuse as they try to sort out if a crime has been committed.

She said Gilliam is part of a task force, the Oregon Elder Abuse Work Group, which is charged with preparing a recommendation on the definition of elder abuse. It is expected the reconvened task force will introduce legislation during the 2014 session that will create one unifying definition of “elder abuse,” alleviating providers’ frustration and eliminating confusion among customers.

Gilliam, a Republican who represents portions of Marion and Clackamas counties and serves residents of Silverton, Mt. Angel, Scotts Mills and others, has made elder abuse a cornerstone of his legislative career. He has pledged to end the victimization of what he believes is the most vulnerable population in the state: the elderly, and disabled residents between the ages of 18-64.

Marie Cervantes, director of the Office of Adult Abuse Prevention and Investigations, said the study will be beneficial in multiple ways.

“By having all the facts in front of us, we are able to see trends and methods. This will help us to be able to come up with better prevention and education strategies,” she said.

Read the report

Go to StatesmanJournal.com/news to see a copy of the Oregon study on the financial exploitation of the elderly compiled by the Department of Human Services Office of Adult Abuse Prevention and Investigations.

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