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Empowered to Stop Family Fraud
Christina O’Callaghan knew her 87-year-old mother’s memory was fading. What she didn’t know was that someone was taking advantage of that fact. Even worse, it was someone in the family.

“I woke up in the middle of the night and had a bad feeling,” recalls O’Callaghan, who had been concerned about her mother’s declining health for months.

The abuse was not physical, but financial. Every year thousands of older adults in this country are victims of financial abuse, and most of those cases involve a family member. O’Callaghan followed her intuition and checked her mom’s bank statements. She noticed that $200 had been withdrawn on the morning of Feb. 4, and another $400 later that evening, raising a red flag. By the time she confirmed her suspicions, a younger relative of O’Callaghan had taken $4000 from her mother’s account.

O’Callaghan knew about Child Protective Services, but had no idea that Adult Protective Services existed or what services the program offered. She went directly to the local authorities and notified her mother’s financial institution, which is mandated to contact APS if they suspect a crime has been committed against a person over 65.

O’Callaghan met with Josh Cottingim, a social worker with Sacramento County APS, who worked with her to get her mother a proper diagnosis for Alzheimer’s disease so she could obtain the authority to deal with her mother’s finances and medical bills and appointments. Without guidance from APS, O’Callaghan says, she would have considered the case closed once they got her mother’s money back. But with support from APS, she’s been able to help protect her mother from future attempts.

Cottingim says financial abuse committed against older adults by family members is under-reported because of the complexities of family dynamics when accusations are made. But APS can serve as a helpful, impartial ally and advocate for the older adult’s well-being. There’s even the option of reporting suspected abuse, financial or otherwise, completely anonymously.

Today, O’Callaghan is grateful for the support from APS and the fact that her mother is being properly cared for and not longer taken advantage of. O’Callaghan says she’s learned it’s important to be fully engaged in an older parent’s affairs, something she counts as key to the successful outcome of her own mother’s story.

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