PHOENIX (KSAZ) - Arizona has long been known as a destination for retirees, but that makes more people a potential target for financial exploitation and elder abuse.
Nearly 1.5 million seniors are victims of the multi-billion dollar crime, and an influx of people to the Valley has made Maricopa County the fastest growing county in the country,
In 2017, Maricopa County added 74,000 people, or about 200 a day. Many of those people are seniors moving to Arizona to escape brutal winters, or to enjoy the state's picturesque beauty. It also makes Arizona a prime target for elder scams and financial abuse.
"Because of what I've learned over the past 22 years, I know that my mother could be the next victim of some sort of financial exploitation," said elder abuse expert Paul Greenwood.
Greenwood is one of the leading voices in the country on identifying and stopping elder abuse and exploitation. The Deputy District Attorney in San Diego has dedicated the past 22 years of his career to trying to help the aging population, and says children and parents have to be on the lookout, especially in states like Arizona.
Unlike physical abuse, financial exploitation is harder to spot.
"It's that subject that you don't want to even talk about, that your own parent can be a victim of some kind of financial exploitation. The victim themselves don't want to talk about it because if they're aware of it, they're to embarrassed to tell anyone. They want to keep it hidden, and that only strengthens the perpetrators to go do it again and again," said Greenwood.
The perpetrators are sometimes opportunistic strangers taking advantage of a wealthy estate. Sometimes, it's a family member wanting access to money and end up gaming the system, while putting their loved one in a nursing home they may not belong in.
Melanie Johnston is a caregiver who says she's seen that before and calls it imprisonment for some patients.
"If you saw what dementia does to people and their families, you don't put someone in a lockdown facility who doesn't require it, that's a travesty," said Johnston.
Greenwood says he's seen similar heartbreaking instances during the cases he's investigated
"The friends who've been friends for 20, 30, 40 years are being blocked from seeing that person, how can that be? The worst thing we can do is to stay silent, and ignore these red flags," said Greenwood.
Arizona's Adult Protective Services received more than 13,000 reports of elder abuse last fiscal year, although proving it is tough. Just under 50% of abuse cases in Arizona involve family members
"We should certainly have checks and balances, and I would also say that if you're an adult son or daughter living a long way away from your aging parent, you need to be more involved in their life," said Greenwood.
Late in 2017, President Trump signed the "Elder Abuse Prevention and Protection Act" into law, which provides coordination at the federal, state, and local levels to try and fight elder abuse and provides more training. Advocates say this is the most significant action taken by Congress in nearly a decade.