Financial Advisor Magazine
MARCH 24, 2016 • TED KNUTSON
In a pilot program, in-depth forensic accountant Karen Webber is steering juries, judges and police officers through the often dense cloudiness of elder financial abuse cases.
One of the chronic problems in bringing to justice those who defraud seniors is that the key players in law enforcement rarely have the time, expertise and desire to sift through the pounds of bank records, investment account statements, canceled checks and tax returns necessary to prove somebody’s guilt.
But with her education as a CPA and her specialized training in sleuth accounting, Webber aims to use these skills to digest thousands of pages of data into small packages of easily digestible bites.
“At the end of the day, the most important thing is making it possible for jurors or judges to pick up my report and understand exactly what happened,” says the Rochester, N.Y.-based professional.
Webber heads up teams of senior advocates from social service workers to medical staffers to financial professionals who have spent the last three years developing cases in seven western New York state counties and Manhattan under the umbrella of the Rochester branch of a not-for-profit social service agency called Lifespan.
She will soon begin training adult protective service workers in Virginia as well.
A key to limiting the damage of a senior financial fraudster is for witnesses to report their suspicions to authorities as soon as possible, explains a regular member of the teams, Lifespan social worker Allison Granata.
The reason early reporting is important, says Granata, is that perpetrators usually spend the stolen money quickly and often have little to pay back the victims.
Just as the complexity and the close personal relationships between seniors and fraudsters (usually the crooks are relatives or other caregivers) scare off law enforcement officers from intervening, Granata says these factors can also make victims reluctant to cooperate.
“They sometimes tell us to go away, to leave us alone,” she says.
In their work, the teams led by Webber often find the crooks begin by stealing small sums of money as a way of testing the water to see if they can get away with the crime.
The investigations can often involve tedious searches for unobtrusive withdrawals from bank accounts, but one of the team members, Peg Horan, at the New York City Elder Abuse Center, says some things do stand out.
“We see all the time purchases of 10 tickets to a Six Flags amusement park when the older person didn’t go there,” Horan says.
Receipts for money spend on gambling are also common, she adds.
And the thefts can be life threatening. There have been eviction cases in New York City because victims have not had enough money remaining to pay rent.