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Elder Abuse Unit

The primary responsibility of the Elder Abuse Unit is investigative management and prosecution of crimes involving elderly victims of abuse, neglect and financial exploitation. The Unit was created several years ago in recognition of the fact that the proportion of Rhode Island’s population that is sixty years of age and older is dramatically increasing and will continue to do so in the coming years. Coupled with the fact that this age group is the State’s fastest growing demographic is that crimes against senior citizens often go unreported, presenting high temptation and low risk factors to potential offenders. The special needs often presented by elder victims and the fact that elder abuse, neglect and exploitation crosses all racial, socio-economic, gender and geographic lines made the need for a special unit apparent.

Successful criminal prosecutions resulted in jail time for many defendants, as well as court-ordered restitution of nearly $500,000 for senior victims.

The Unit continued to work with and advise law enforcement agencies across the State in elder abuse investigations, leading to over 140 felony criminal cases involving elderly victims in 2013. More than 250 additional investigations and complaints were handled by the Elder Abuse Unit, of which 125 were disposed of resulting in significant jail time for many defendants and court-ordered restitution of nearly $500,000 for senior victims.

Recognizing the importance of training law enforcement, healthcare professionals and others who work in close contact with elders, in 2013 the Elder Abuse Unit, in conjunction with Day One and several police departments, conducted a two-day training for police officers and members of the financial industry. The program, which was sponsored by Citizens Bank, was designed to help others recognize and investigate crimes of elder abuse with a focus on ensuring victim safety and how to work collaboratively with other members of the elder care community.

What to do if you suspect abuse

Below are potential scenarios and courses of action you can take to prevent elder abuse.

Scenario
Solution(s)

You visit your father every couple of weeks. Recently you looked at his bank statement and noticed several checks between $200 and $600 that he can't explain.

Did your father write the checks? If he did not, and does not know who did, then he should file a police report. The police may be able to determine who wrote the checks simply by establishing the payee on the checks. A common tactic of abusers is to write checks to themselves from the elder’s checkbook with the hope that the elder may later forget or be confused about writing the check. Sadly, abusers of this type are very often another family member, close friend or caretaker. If it appears to you that your father did write the checks and doesn’t recall doing so, he may have a capacity issue. If that is the case, you should have him assessed by his physician.

Several times when you’ve called your aunt’s home in another state, her caregiver tells you she’s sleeping, or too tired, or just can’t come to the phone.

If there is no one else you know who resides near your aunt and is able to check on her, a report should be made to Adult Protective Services (APS) in the state where your aunt resides. A caseworker from APS will assess the situation by interviewing your aunt outside of the presence of the caretaker. If APS determines the caretaker is neglecting your aunt, they would report it to the police.

You’ve given your favorite nephew several loans. His requests are getting larger and more frequent. You’re becoming concerned. But he can get very angry when challenged, so you're reluctant to say no.

If you have other family members you could reach out to for help with this matter, then I suggest you do so. You should not be pressured by your nephew into loaning him money and if you feel threatened by him, you should report it to the police.

Your brother, who has power of attorney for your father with Alzheimers, won’t let you look at your father’s accounts. But recently your brother bought a fancy car, and you’re suspicious.

Abuse of a power of attorney is one of the most common forms of elder financial exploitation. Unfortunately, in most states, the holder of a power of attorney is not obligated to file a report of his or her expenditures. This type of situation may require two avenues of relief. First, a report to the police will trigger a criminal investigation which may reveal expenditures which are so excessive as to constitute criminal conduct. You may also want to contact a civil attorney in order to seek a guardianship or conservatorship over your father’s finances in order to prevent future unauthorized withdrawals.

The woman who drives you is like a daughter. Once, when you weren’t well, you gave her your ATM card to do errands for you. Now, when you ask her where the card is, she changes the subject.

Go to your bank and explain the situation to a bank representative. A stop should be placed on your existing ATM card, and a new one should be issued to you. Review your bank statements, and if there are transactions you did not make or authorize, you should file a police report.

A bank officer reports that your mother in assisted living has withdrawn a significantly larger-than-usual sum. When you ask her about it she becomes indignant and clams up.

The answer to this question depends upon the competency of your mother. If she is competent, and has the capacity to handle her own affairs, it is up to her whether or not she shares the information with you. You could enlist the help of a social worker at the assisted living. Perhaps your mother would be more forthcoming with a non-family member. Unfortunately, however, it is often a fine line between an elderly person who is competent and simply desires friendship for which she is willing to pay, and an elderly person who is marginally competent and may be the victim of undue influence. It is important to determine if anyone is placing pressure on your mother to give them money. If you or the social worker has concerns about your mother’s capacity, you may want to have her assessed by a physician or geriatric psychiatrist.

Your brother lives with your mother.  He doesn’t have a job and he doesn’t pay for rent. When he drinks he is mean to your mother. You think she's been giving him money and that she is afraid of him.

Try to talk to your mother alone. She may be more inclined to open up to you when your brother is not present. Ask about his behavior towards her, and in particular, if he is threatening her in any way. Sadly, a common tactic of abusers is to threaten an elder with the loss of her independent living arrangements. Many abusers will threaten to place the elder in a nursing home if the elder does not give the abuser money. You need to ask her if she wants help with the situation and, if so, what specifically does she want to happen. Does she want him to move? Does she want to stop giving him money? If there are any signs of physical abuse, you may need to involve the police as well.