Agency taking steps to protect elderly from crime

Luann Mayhew and her siblings take care of their mother Betty and protect her from crime.
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Crimes against the elderly are at an all time high - in Indiana and across the country. It's not just abuse and neglect, the biggest increase is financial abuse.

Luann Mayhew and her siblings take care of their mother, Betty, who is now in an assisted living facility. Betty, who is 87 and suffers from dementia, has never been the victim of any elderly crime, but it's something Luann worries about.

"It's something we think about all the time, because if the wrong person got in touch with her, even over the phone, we don't know what would happen," Mayhew said.

She has good reason to be concerned. Over the last decade, abuse and neglect cases against persons over 65 years increased 12 percent. During the same time frame, instances of money scams increased by 80 percent.

"We're kind of shocked to see that," said Patrick Calkins.

Calkins heads up Adult Protective Services, the group that investigates crimes against the elderly in Indiana. He says he knows why they so-called "Greatest Generation" is so vulnerable.

"Sometimes they are their own worst enemy. They can be a victim and they are so proud and embarrassed that they don't want to report it," Calkins said.

In Indiana, the Adult Protective Services program has 42 full-time investigators, who receive between 30,000-50,000 calls a year about exploitation of the elderly, which leads to only about 15,000 cases.

"The true cost to Indiana is not just the human suffering. Everybody shares some of the cost and that would be our tax dollars," Calkins said.

Aside from the cost, which is estimated in the billions across the country, elderly victims of exploitation have a mortality rate three to six times that of non-victims.

"I just had a case that I had a bed-bound female who purchased a boat and sport utility vehicle, tanning bed," said Andrea Qualitza.

Qualitza is one of six investigators who covers Marion, Hendricks, Hamilton and Boone counties. She says the crimes vary, from staff members at care facilities to friends and family - even scams.

Right now, her team is gearing up for a springtime trend.

"Right now, with the summer months approaching, we will see a lot of home improvement fraud. Our elders, specifically, they will target the population, retirement homes, they will go up and say that 'I need money for services' and then they'll give money up front and never be seen again," Qualitza said.

The good news is that the banking and medical industries have made great strides in training workers to recognize if a customer may be the victim of a crime. But those who are working on the front lines to protect the elderly say it will take all of us to keep them safe.

"It's going to take action on the part of our total population to effect any change to this," said Calkins.

Mayhew says she will now be extra vigilant to protect her mother from becoming a victim.

Ninety percent of the crimes against the elderly are committed by someone known to the victim. Indiana is the only state where each case is reviewed by the prosecutor's office, making charges against criminals more likely.