LUBBOCK, Texas — The Texas Department of Adult Protective Services (APS) recommended Tuesday morning that community members, aged 65 and older, keep their private information, like social security numbers, passwords, maiden names and bank account information, in a locked drawer or somewhere safe.

Cases of elderly financial exploitation increased over the last three years, with 1,028 cases of exploitation reported in the Texas fiscal year 2020, according to APS.

How does it happen?

The department said elderly people might not check their bank accounts as often, because they may not be as technologically “savvy.” APS encouraged seniors to keep track of their bank statements or ask their banks for help navigating their online accounts.

“They need to let their bank know if anything looks suspicious and make sure they’ve authorized [payments],” APS said.

Sue Ellen Stalder, the Community Engagement Specialist for APS with the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) in Texas, told KLBK News that elderly financial exploitation happens more often than people think.

“By the nature of our clients, some don’t realize for a long time that they are being exploited because the folks who are exploiting them, they’re trusted individuals of the client and family members,” Stalder stated. “Or caregivers that come into their home.”

APS said it does not handle criminal cases like scams that happen via text, email or phone call unless it involves a family member or paid caregiver.

One common occurrence APS said it sees is when grandchildren visit their grandparents and ask if they can go to the store to get groceries for them. The grandparent sends the grandchildren with a debit card, and while the kids may get the items requested, they may also make other purchases for themselves.

Another common occurrence happens when a family member goes to the ATM and withdraws cash from the elder’s account.

“Let’s say, for instance, they’re not able to pay their electric bill anymore because they don’t have any money in their account,” Stalder began. APS might get a concerned phone call from a social worker, community or family member.

What can APS do?

Stalder said APS has the ability to get bank records and establish patterns of abuse, which is “pretty easy to see” at that point.

One organization in Lubbock assists in raising funds for APS to get clients back on their feet or caught up with missed bills.

The Llano Estacado Silver Star Board was formed to help Adult Protective Services caseworkers meet the needs of seniors and persons with disabilities, according to the board’s Facebook page.

There are protective measures, Stalder shared. She said when a paid caregiver steals money from a client, APS puts the caregiver on a registry that home health agencies check whenever they look into their applicants.

“They will see the individual has been validated by APS for financial exploitation and they will not be hired,” she told KLBK News.

When asked about motivators, Stalder said, “We have a lot of family members we see. They’re either out of work or perhaps they have a drug or other addiction problem. This is just an easy way to access cash.”

“What is reported is minimal, but what is going on, in fact, is far greater,” Stalder stated. “It is probably one of the least prosecuted crimes because people are not aware when it happens.”

How to report exploitation

APS said, “If anyone thinks they are being exploited or know of someone they think might be, call 1-800-252-5400. That will get a case opened, and an investigator will call to gather more information.”

DFPS also accepts reports on the Texas Abuse Hotline Website.