Protecting against elder abuse


In California we have federal as well as state elder abuse laws that protect persons 65 years and older. These laws have been created to protect elders, as well as adults with disabilities, from abuse by others.

Abuse can take many forms, including but not limited to physical abuse, like hitting, kicking and pushing. It can be emotional abuse if words or acts are meant to humiliate, demean or scare an elderly person. Threats can also be emotional abuse. Another type of abuse is financial, when someone forces, tricks by misrepresentation or secretly takes something — money or other property — from an elderly person without their permission.

The majority of abuse is usually perpetrated by a family member or caregiver, as an elder depends more on others for some of their basic needs. However, at this time of COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders, many elders who live alone are facing isolation and loneliness. These conditions make an already vulnerable population even more at risk of financial elder abuse through identity theft or another scam. Many more of us, regardless of age, are getting unsolicited phone calls, e-mails, and regular mail offering to help on a variety of issues, either for a small fee or requesting personal or financial information. Some elders who may have physical ailments or cognitive impairment, even if mild, may be influenced by such calls to give information without considering the consequence. Once a scammer has your private information, you may become a victim of identity theft.

Our advice is to be very careful when you receive an unsolicited call or mail, where you did not initiate the contact with the caller or person/company that sent you mail. You should ignore these calls or discard the mailing as junk mail.

Some common scams are:

IRS Tax scam
Usually the contact is made by phone, informing you of a tax problem that requires immediate attention. The caller will ask for your name and social security number to confirm who you are. DO NOT RESPOND, just hang up. The IRS rarely calls the taxpayer. The IRS may respond to a taxpayer’s call or inquiry but most communications are by mail. If there is a legitimate tax issue the IRS will mail a letter or notice to contact you.

Medicare or Social Security
Similar to the IRS scam, they will not contact you by phone regarding a problem. Additionally, Medicare will not contact you regarding an offer to purchase a medical service or product. Sometimes the caller will inform you that your Medicare or social security benefits will end if you do not respond to them. That is not true, you will be contacted by mail if there is a problem with your benefits.

Grandparent fraud
This is when an elder will get a call from someone posing to be your grandchild. The caller is frantic, claiming they are in trouble, either in an accident, have been arrested or are facing some other emergency. The “grandchild” says they need funds immediately for medical care or bail. Sometimes there will be another person who gets on the call claiming to be a doctor or the police to further convince the grandparent of the seriousness of the situation. Since many grandparents are currently housebound, they may not know what is going on with their grandchild and feel pressure or concern for the safety of their family member and the need to respond to this urgent situation. Oftentimes the scammer has some information about the grandchild through social media sites, so they may sound convincing. The grandchild may say, “Don’t tell my parents.” The point is to distract and upset the elder to act without thinking through the situation. The caller will ask for payment by pre-paid gift cards or Western Union transfers, as these are hard to reverse or trace after the fact. Our advice is to be very careful when you receive an unsolicited call or mail. You should ignore these calls or discard the mailing as junk mail.

If you get such a call or other contact you may make a report to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at 877-382-4357.

We can all play a role in keeping our elders safe by checking in with our aging family and friends. If you are aware of, or suspect a problem that may be elder abuse, please get help. You can contact a community or senior center that you are familiar with and speak to a social worker who may help with local resources. If it is an emergency situation the elder can call the police at 911 or Adult Protective Services at (415) 557-5230 in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach at (415) 567-6255 is a community-based nonprofit legal services agency and may be able to offer legal assistance or information for San Francisco Bay Area elders.

Akiko Takeshita is the managing attorney at Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach ( She can be reached at

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