Flap about financial fraud

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Despite its widespread coverage in the media, a lack of participation could curtail the impact of a program to protect elderly people from financial fraud. The program is under way in 22 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

The Elder Investment Fraud and Financial Exploitation Prevention program is a collaboration between medical associations and investor- and adult-protection service groups. The program will train 200 doctors per state this year, as part of their state relicensing requirements, to look for signs of financial abuse by asking patients a series of questions to determine whether they’re being financially abused. Patients who are at risk of financial abuse or victims of financial abuse will be referred to securities regulators and adult-protection services.

But a Baylor College of Medicine 2008 pilot program, on which the wider program is based, had remarkably low participation by physicians—only 67 of the 200 doctors who were trained by the program participated in the 6-month follow-up. Of those, only 55 percent reported that they used the program’s questions to examine their patients for signs of financial fraud. (New data won’t be available for at least 9 months, when follow-up information is available from new course-takers.)

Recent national polls reveal that 20 percent of elders say they have experienced financial fraud, says Robert Roush, who was the lead investigator in the Baylor program, but the pilot program didn’t look at how to detect such fraud. “Obviously, if fraud is detected, then the physician would have a duty to report this,” Roush says. That duty was covered in the pilot program and will receive more emphasis in the wider program.