Prosecutor: Elder abuse likely to surge in county |

Prosecutor: Elder abuse likely to surge in county

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Criminals are increasingly preying on the elderly, an area of crime that is going to explode in Nevada County as crooks figure out it’s easier money than holdups or street crime, a San Diego prosecutor says.

Street crime just isn’t worth the risk anymore, because video cameras keep an eye on convenience stores and cell phones can summon police right away.

Paul Greenwood believes crooks will turn instead to the vulnerable senior citizens population. The growing need for caregivers gives crooks an opening, and once victimized, seniors are often afraid to report the crime.

“I believe in the next five years, elder abuse is going to be one of the top three crimes in this country,” Greenwood, a San Diego County deputy district attorney who heads an elder-abuse unit, said Thursday.

“We have two choices: We can either now prepare for the avalanche of crimes which is going to come through, or we can get buried.”

Greenwood, who has prosecuted more than 200 cases of physical and financial elder abuse since 1996, was in Nevada City speaking at the Justice for Elder Americans Conference. The training conference was sponsored by the Elder Abuse Advocacy and Outreach Program, Adult Protective Services of Nevada County, and the Nevada County Bar Association.

Nevada County is not immune just because it’s rural, he said.

Greenwood predicted the county will see an explosion in crime in the next 10 years against people 65 years and up as Bay Area retirees stream into the countryside – a trend that has not escaped the attention of criminals.

“As the retirees move into this area, so do the crooks descend on this area,” he said.

The retirees who buy acreage in Nevada County may find 10 years later that they can’t take care of the place anymore. They hire a handyman without checking his references, and he turns out to be a criminal.

Three weeks later, the stealing begins.

Elder abuse is growing in part because older Americans are the fastest-growing age group in the population, Greenwood said .

U.S. Census figures for Nevada County show the 85-and-over population increased 62 percent during the 1990s, while 75- to 84-year-olds increased 45 percent.

Elder crime is also becoming more common because of the large numbers of the elderly who suffer from dementia and Alzheimer’s, and because the victims often don’t report the crime out of embarrassment or fear their relatives will send them to a nursing home.

Surveys show that in-home health care is one of the fastest growing occupations, Greenwood said. That growth provides opportunities for con artists, who often do not receive thorough background checks.

Most people – even law enforcement – don’t look at elder abuse as a crime, and Greenwood sees potential criminal cases that end up on the civil docket as a lawsuit.

“We’ve got to send the message out that elder abuse is a crime,” he said.

Rob Shotwell, adult services program manager with the Nevada County Human Services Agency, said there has been a substantial increase in reports of elder-abuse cases, particularly financial abuse.

“The big one that is really increasing off the charts is financial abuse,” Shotwell said.

The Nevada County District Attorney’s Office prosecuted approximately 15 elder-abuse cases in 2001 – more than half of which involved financial abuse, said Deputy District Attorney Jim Phillips.

Phillips said cops are taking financial elder-abuse cases more seriously, and doing a better job of separating the civil suits over bad investments from criminal fraud cases.

Some elder-abuse fraud goes on for years before it is reported, and cheats victims out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, Phillips said.

“The growth is in the large-dollar-amount cases where you have embezzlement pursuant to a power of attorney,” he said.

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