Sonja Kobrin, M.P.S., Warns Financial Elder Abuse as a Growing Threat, Proactive Steps Needed

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Summary: Geriatric Care Manager and President of V.I.P. Care Management, Sonja Kobrin, M.P.S., without proper awareness, education, and the emotional strength to stand up to exploiters, seniors can be left to fall prey to those who seek to take over their financial assets for their own personal gain. 

Elder abuse, at least to some degree, has probably always existed. On one hand, domestic elder abuse, such as violence, neglect, and financial exploitation, is believed to be more prevalent than institutional elder abuse, as 80% of dependent elders are cared for at home. However, research supporting this claim is lacking. Another dichotomy distinguishes elder abuse by individuals with a special relationship with the elderly person, such as spouses, partners, children, relatives, friends, or even caregivers who have been with the elder for several years. It is more rare for an elder to be exploited by a stranger. 

Financial abuse of the elderly is a complex issue that is difficult to identify, investigate, and prosecute due to state laws and the phenomenon of the abused protecting the abuser. It is the fastest-growing form of elder abuse that V.I.P. Care Management is noticing in their caseload. The increasing number of elderly people, increased emphasis on home care, and substantial resources for the elderly have led to greater attention to this issue. Financial exploitation is an alarming reality that demands collective attention and action. Sonja Kobrin, President of V.I.P. Care Management, emphasizes, “Exploiters often use expressions of love, attention, and a family-like connection as potent weapons to manipulate seniors, particularly in locations where seniors often live isolated and vulnerable.” Proactively addressing this issue is crucial to prevention, and individuals need to be aware of the insidious and yet very common techniques used by exploiters today.

Sonja Kobrin brings her 30 years of Care Management experience to the forefront, shedding light on the pervasive nature of elder exploitation within caregiving relationships and communities. Because it is so difficult to prosecute an exploiter and recover lost finances, Sonja emphasizes the need for prevention through education, intervention, and comprehensive solutions designed to safeguard the financial well-being of our seniors. 

“The exploitation process unfolds methodically in FIVE PREDICTABLE STEPS,according to Sonja. The first act is a feigned compassion, where the perpetrator, often a caregiver, friend, or family member, enters a senior’s life during a vulnerable moment, such as a health crisis or loss, gradually building trust and fostering dependence. 

The perpetrator then manipulates the senior by convincing them that their own family is greedy and neglectful, leading to a rift between the elder and their true support system, causing emotional isolation and further reliance on the perpetrator. 

With trust eroded and isolation established, the perpetrator tightens their grip. They restrict family and friends’ contact with the senior, control access to information and finances, and may resort to abuse and intimidation, creating a fear-inducing environment where the senior is hesitant to seek help. 

Exploiters use a twisted mockery of affection to manipulate seniors, creating a pseudo-familial bond that reinforces their control. This emotional manipulation is particularly effective for seniors who crave companionship and connection, making them more susceptible to the perpetrator’s false affection. Some perpetrators go so far as to create a sexual relationship to exert their control. The ultimate example of this is may lead to marriage to the exploiter. One would think that seniors who tend to be more private, anti-social, or even paranoid would be less likely to fall prey to an exploiter. In Sonja’s experience, it is this personality type that tends to be more likely to fall prey to financial manipulation.

This calculated exploitation is a growing threat in the United States. Reported losses in 2022 according to a report reached almost $3.1 billion. Misuse of credit cards is a significant aspect of financial exploitation, where seniors hand over their cards to trusted individuals for shopping assistance. This abuse becomes more complicated when credit card companies are located in different states making it a crime that needs to be investigated by the F.B.I., which almost never happens due to the amount of financial loss being too small to dedicate federal resources to prosecuting. This is exactly what exploiters are banking on when it comes to committing credit card fraud. 

Unauthorized appropriation of assets, such as money, jewelry, cars, cherished heirlooms, and even houses can lead to feelings of violation, fear, and confusion for seniors. Deception tools like forged signatures, misuse of joint bank accounts, and the misappropriation of funds can used to divest seniors of their income and life savings. Threats of abandonment are mostly used as a manipulative ploy, while authorized access to powers of attorney and fiduciary documents can be misused for personal enrichment by the exploiter. “The fight against elder financial abuse requires vigilance, awareness, and proactive measures to protect seniors and ensure they receive the care and respect they deserve,” expresses Sonja. 

To counteract this, seniors could hire Geriatric Care Management agencies, such as V.I.P. Care Management, to manage and monitor caregivers, ensuring proper vetting of providers and taking immediate action in case any wrongdoing is discovered. Unfortunately, private aids, who are unaffiliated with agencies and unsupervised, often form questionable alliances with a network of other private aids in order to manage the client without the supervision of a legitimate agency. Sonja strongly advises that elders and their families do not bypass safeguards afforded by legitimate service providers. V.I.P. Care Management often recommends trusted family members monitor monthly financial statements and also recommends the installation of cameras in households to monitor caregivers.

Sonja’s insights underscore the urgency for proactive measures to prevent exploitation. Sadly the cost of prosecuting an exploiter after the fact is cost prohibitive for most people and could take years to receive justice, if ever. Families are urged to be vigilant and seek professional assistance like V.I.P. Care Management. Sonja underscores the importance of immediate action, stating, “If someone you love has a person taking over their finances, lifestyle, and thought processes, get professional help! Contact a Geriatric Care Manager or an Elder Law attorney and make sure someone contacts Adult Protective Services. Take action immediately to protect your loved ones.” 

Sonja and her team of care managers recommend a series of comprehensive solutions to their clients, especially for those with early-stage cognitive impairment. Hiring a care manager to properly vet and manage home healthcare providers and other professionals can go a long way to mitigate the tragic loss of freedom, property, and finances. A care manager is especially needed when the family or support system of the senior lives at a distance or in another state.