Family members, even children, swindling elderly relatives occurs too often in Utah, according to Deputy Davis County Attorney Rick Westmoreland.
He recently charged an adult who embezzled $100,000 from an elderly parent with second-degree felony exploitation of an adult.
"The real problem is many times you have parents who don't want to press criminal charges," Westmoreland said. "Then it is one of the siblings who gets involved and becomes 'the bad guy.' "
Utah seniors are being exploited out of $7.7 million a year, according to a study conducted by Jilene Gunther of the Utah Division of Aging and Adult Services. That number could actually be as high as $339 million a year or $1 million a day because of unreported cases.
The average senior who becomes a victim loses more than $85,000 before it is reported to authorities, said Gunther, who is an attorney and social worker with the division.
She has put together a booklet titled "Navigating Your Rights: The Utah Legal Guide for Those 55 and Over."
She received funding from the Ballard Spahr law firm and Bank of American Fork, so no tax money was used.
The booklet has three chapters devoted to financial exploitation, Gunther said.
"The majority of perpetrators are the family members," Gunther said. "You can say blood is thicker than water, but for some, money is thicker than blood. No one expects their child to exploit them."
Kim Cannon, the long-term care ombudsman with Davis County Health Department Senior Services, said she gets several phone calls a month from concerned family members or friends who suspect an elderly person is being financially exploited. She can only investigate cases if the senior citizen says OK.
If they don't want her to investigate, then Cannon advises the person who complained to call the state's Adult Protective Services, because that department is under a different set of rules, Cannon said.
But what worries Cannon more is the scams seniors get snagged into because of technology or phone calls or door-to-door salesmen.
The book helps seniors see through the scams, she said.
Former Gov. Olene Walker, who is 80 and lives in St. George, wrote the foreword for the book.
"It's hard to believe that a child would exploit their parent," Walker said. "When the parents have money or property, sometimes one of their kids or another relative will talk them into investing into a scheme or actually find ways to control their estate."
Walker said she wrote the foreword after reading the book because she believes it is "a good guide to help (seniors) walk through issues."
"It is also very helpful in the health care issues," Walker said. "It tells (seniors) what the state can do and gives general instructions and directions on what (seniors) need to consider as they get older."
Sally Kershisnik, director of senior services and family health with Davis County Health Department, said everyone, even those younger than 55, should get the book because the information can be applied to most adults.
"We all have to think about our retirement and the future," Kershisnik said.
Kershisnik said no one is too young to begin planning for end-of-life care decisions or power of attorney.