THE “hidden scourge” of elder abuse — physical, psychological and financial — is destroying the lives of thousands of older West Australians.
An estimated one in 20 of WA’s 350,000 seniors will have experienced violence, exploitation or neglect, often perpetrated by a trusted family member, a parliamentary inquiry has been told.
The probe has shone a light on the silent epidemic, revealing how greedy adult children are draining their parents’ bank accounts, abusing powers of attorney, taking control of property and using access to grandchildren as blackmail.
Seniors rights advocates, legal experts and authorities, who all said cases were on the rise in WA but that most victims never speak out, told how:
UNDERSTANDING of elder abuse is 30 years behind that of child abuse and 10-20 years behind domestic violence, according to the Commissioner for Victims of Crime.
HUMBUGGING — greedy relatives putting pressure on the older generation to hand over cash — is widespread.
INCIDENTS of elder abuse confirmed by WA Police have surged more than 40 per cent over the past three years.
WA’S Elder Abuse Helpline receives almost 50 calls a month, with 60 per cent of perpetrators being the victim’s sons or daughters.
DOCTORS, bank staff and other professionals in frequent contact with seniors will be taught how to identify elder abuse.
WA Public Trustee Brian Roche, who deals with financial elder abuse after the State Administrative Tribunal appoints it as an administrator of an older person’s estate, said his team carried out 51 investigations last year.
Risks include cognitive impairment, being widowed, isolated and having children or grandchildren “who collude to remove assets ... due to their need or greed, or to safeguard their ‘inheritance’ from being used to care for the older person in an aged-care facility”, he said.
“The Public Trustee believes that education is integral to empowering older persons to better protect themselves from the risks of elder abuse as they age,” Mr Roche said.
“Elder abuse is an extremely concerning social issue, which is currently and deservedly receiving attention.”
WA Police Assistant Commissioner Michelle Fyfe said collecting data was difficult as elder abuse was not a specific crime and until there were reporting mechanisms, “prevalence of elder abuse within our community will continue to be difficult to identify”.
Incidents of elder abuse flagged by officers increased from 131 cases in 2013-14 to 185 last year, Ms Fyfe said, but as the WA population ages, the potential for more offending against older West Australians was “inevitable”.
The Sunday Times can reveal a “syndicate” of eight people is before the courts after a Major Fraud Squad investigation into allegations of fraudulent powers of attorney and abuse of family arrangements.
The charges followed two complaints about fraudulently obtained mortgages in which lenders were allegedly deceived into handing over money under the mistaken belief their investment was secured by way of a caveat or mortgage over property to which the loan was secured.
“Falsified legal documents were submitted, making it appear that innocent third parties who have no knowledge of the mortgage or the borrower were providing security to guarantee the loans,” police said. “The value of the fraudulent loan agreements totalled $850,000; the suspect didn’t intend (to) repay the loan and disbursed the proceeds amongst the syndicate.”
Advocare has received 1435 calls to its elder abuse helpline since its launch three years ago and in 2016-17 helped 1219 clients. The most prevalent form of abuse was financial (34 per cent) and physiological (33 per cent), which includes intimidation, humiliation, threats, withholding affection and removing decision-making power.