Elder care attorney Leonard Baer gave a presentation on senior consumer fraud and abuse at the Royal Palm Beach Senior Ad Hoc Committee meeting on Friday, May 12.
Baer has given talks across the country about financial abuse to the elderly, including for the AARP and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has also testified on the subject before the Senate Subcommittee on Aging in Washington, D.C.
Baer served as deputy chief of the Major Crimes Division for the United States Attorney’s Office under the late Janet Reno in the Southern District of Florida. He currently practices in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, New York and Washington, D.C.
Baer said he has followed the work of the committee and was familiar with what they are working on. “I’ve heard the discussions, and I understand the purpose is really to make recommendations to the Royal Palm Beach Village Council regarding seniors, programs available to seniors, things that could be done or recommended as things that should be done, and this is primarily the area that I practice in,” he said.
His focus was about how business people and professionals not in the medical field can become involved in reporting elder abuse.
“There are many different areas to it,” Baer said. “One of the subsets, and what I’m really here to talk about is a subset that I have found myself in because of my background with the U.S. Attorney’s Office,” he said. “I was also a state prosecutor working with Janet Reno’s office. I then had my own defense practice, so I got a chance to see things that maybe other people don’t normally see.”
He became involved with financial exploitation of the elderly when he had a client call him several years ago who got caught up in a scam that ultimately took about $35,000 from his family.
“The anguish that it caused in his family, to his wife, to his children, was unbelievable, and the experience of working with that family and the experience of being with those people, who became my friends, was something that I thought about and really said to myself at that time, ‘This is something that because of my own background I probably can help people.’ And I was seeing more of it,” Baer recalled.
Financial exploitation, sexual and emotional abuse are all facets of elderly abuse, he said.
Baer, who lives and has his practice in Wellington, explained what business people should notice when people come into their offices. He has made presentations on the topic to business groups.
“I was talking to Realtors, people who were involved in the banking industry, financial services industry, insurance, even a retailer, because he related to me an experience that he had in his store,” he said. “I was talking about what you as business owners should be looking for when seniors come in, if there seems to be something amiss.”
Baer said more outreach and educational programs are needed to make businesspeople more aware of elder abuse.
“It’s happening more and more. I’m sure you know that elder abuse is a pandemic. It’s an epidemic. It’s a $5 billion a year business just in the United States alone,” he said. “Interestingly, California and South Florida are the two main focus points of what I call the scammers and the fraudsters.”
One local businessman related to Baer an incident where an elderly man came into his store accompanied by a woman he believed to be his daughter. During the course of the conversation, the abusive language was unbelievable from the daughter talking to the father.
From the argumentative behavior in public, he said it was obvious what the social scenario was, what the man had to go through whether he was living with his daughter or not.
Baer said the business owner told him he didn’t know what to do and felt bad that he had done nothing at the time. Under those circumstances, there was probably little recourse the business owner could have taken. However, he said, when business people see abuse, such as an individual who is not dressed properly or doesn’t look clean, or doesn’t look like they have been taking care of themselves or have anybody else taking care of them, they are probably looking at abuse.
Baer said there are lots of elderly abuse laws on the books, but the problem is interpreting and enforcing them. “In the State of Florida, the Department of Social Services, the law enforcement arm, happens to be very effective,” he said.
The Florida Department of Children & Families has a hotline, (800) 962-2873, that people can call, anonymously if they wish, to report elder abuse.
“Florida is probably one of the more progressive states,” Baer said. “I don’t see this in other states that I practice in. Florida will investigate. The investigators will actually come out, even if the tip is anonymous. If they see it, they will report it.”
He said local law enforcement, including the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office and the State Attorney’s Office, have also taken roles in investigating elder abuse.
“They are becoming very reactive to this,” Baer said. “Ten years ago, if we had this talk, probably 10 years ago this committee wouldn’t have even existed, or the issue wouldn’t have been of interest. Things have changed. There is a very reactive group that will pursue this and take a look at these issues.”
Baer recommended that there be more outreach and educational programs or seminars for business owners to start recognizing what elder abuse looks like. He explained that currently, only people in the healthcare professions are mandated to report suspected elder abuse.
“There is no mandatory reporting for all of us,” Baer said, explaining that doctors are the first line of reporting, such as when they see a caretaker, relative or friend come in with the elderly person.
“They are the first ones to see this type of abuse, and what’s amazing to me is they intellectually recognize this, but they felt it is what it is. ‘Gee, somebody seemed to be a little bit bossy,’” he said. “That’s what a doctor said to me when we had a discussion. Maybe the ‘bossy’ that the doctor saw for the 15 minutes that he saw the patient… what do you think that brings to a different level when the patient, the father, the mother, whomever, goes home?”