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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, May 28, 2006

Uncovering financial abuse of the elderly

By Anne Harpham

Over the last year or so, Advertiser reporter Rob Perez had noticed an increase in news stories involving financial abuse of the elderly.

That got him to wondering if it was just a coincidence or a trend.

So he began asking questions and soon found there was, in fact, no coincidence in the cases. Those he asked all said the problem is big, and that no one could say how big it is.

Even after hearing that common refrain, Perez was still startled when he dug deeper and saw how sparse the data tracking the problem is, both here and nationally.

That sent him on a two-month reporting project that culminated in the series, "Falling Prey: The rising financial abuse of Hawai'i's elderly" that began in The Advertiser last Sunday.

Perez found a system that is not only failing the vulnerable but that also is ill-equipped to help when documented cases are brought to its attention.

To gather the material for his three-day series, Perez dug through a lot of paperwork and followed up with interviews to flesh out information and to portray the stories of the people who have been victimized.

He spent a lot of the time tracking down cases that would illustrate the issues raised in the series.

He then read through all the court documents in those cases, both criminal and civil, to get details.

He sat through Probate Court hearings, which illustrated how complicated financial abuse of the elderly can be. Typically, those hearings involved family disputes over who should have control over a parent's or grandparent's financial assets.

Then he interviewed elderly people, their families, social workers, prosecutors, legislators, retirement-home administrators and other advocates for seniors. A clip from two of those interviews, one with a concerned caregiver and the other with an elderly victim of theft and forgery, can be viewed online (http://the.hon oluluadvertiser.com/arti cle/2006/May/22/ln/FP605220317.html).

And he researched adult-protection laws in other states using an American Bar Association survey as a guide.

Perez also looked at data at state Adult Protective Services, which was very forthcoming in giving us access to its public information, even though the results did not cast them in a flattering light. In those instances, we did not ask for, nor were we given, access to abuse investigation records, because they are confidential.

One reader who contacted Perez after the stories were published said the series gave her hope that more attention will be paid to this important issue. Another wrote that the state's adult-protection law must be changed.

We plan to continue to pursue this issue, to continue to reveal the problems and to track efforts to protect our elderly. You can contact Perez at rperez@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8054.

Reach Anne Harpham at aharpham@honoluluadvertiser.com.