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March 24, 2004 - Senior citizens, others warned of elder abuse

Scott Larsen, Kane County assistant state's attorney, advised area seniors at a news conference Tuesday to be wary of any contractor who demands payment without first signing a written contract.

Those perpetrating this type of home fraud typically begin preying on senior citizens in the spring, Larsen said. This year, he's hoping seniors demand the offer in writing before beginning any home repair work.

"When the weather starts getting warmer, the birds come out - and so do the criminals," Larsen said. "Most seniors should be skeptical of workers coming to your door, looking to do work. Talk to friends, get references and get contracts in writing."

Fraud is just one of the crimes under the umbrella of elder abuse, a field that area police, prosecutors and senior service agencies say has skyrocketed in the past few years.

This rise prompted different departments within the 16th Judicial Circuit encompassing Kane, Kendall and DeKalb counties to hold Tuesday's conference.

Elder abuse includes physical, sexual and emotional abuse; neglect; confinement; and financial exploitation. Last year, more than 8,000 elder abuse cases were reported in Illinois.

Between 1993 and 2003, 1,700 such cases were reported in Kane County, said Ziv Sabin, associate executive director of Senior Service Associates, which serves Kane and Kendall counties. The majority were financial exploitation cases.

People such as bank tellers noticing hesitant seniors withdrawing large amounts of funds or neighbors who may suspect that a senior is being mistreated by a caretaker should consider filing an elder abuse report, Sabin said.

Reporting elder abuse is confidential and will result in an investigation by social service providers. The social service workers will contact law enforcement if necessary but will first try to resolve the problem.

Elder abuse reports can be made for those living at home or in a nursing home.

"Lack of reporting is the biggest problem," said Dan West, an Aurora detective. "I'd rather see someone get help than see someone go to jail."

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