Laura Mosqueda, M.D., left, and Kerry Burnight, Ph.D., both professors with the Division of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology pose for a portrait at their office in Orange on Tuesday. (KEVIN CHANG, Coastline Pilot / January 21, 2014)

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Elder abuse can take many forms, and in Laguna Beach seniors have a variety of groups ready to offer assistance to fight off those who mean to do harm.

The few instances of elder abuse reported in Laguna have trended toward tricking people out of their money, according to police statistics.

"They are becoming less neglect-related and more of a financial-fraud situation," Capt. Jason Kravetz said in an email. "[An example] is the person who calls from Africa and tells the elderly person to send money via Western Union or something bad will happen to them."

Reports of alleged elder abuse in the city increased to eight in 2013 compared with two in 2008, Kravetz said.

The eight reports were three more than in 2012, according to statistics for the city, where more than 4,000 residents 65 and older account for 18% of the total population, according to the 2010 U.S. Census.

Experts and community groups are working to determine how these incidents occur and on ways to avoid them.

Laguna Beach police occasionally hold classes at the The Susi Q community center, especially in response to some new scam being perpetrated, Kravetz said.

In addition to financial scams, seniors are vulnerable to neglect, either self-neglect or from a caretaker, said Jeanine Edmond, Laguna Beach Seniors program director.

"Many times an increase in isolation is a factor [for potential abuse]," Edmond said.

Laguna Beach Seniors offers classes and activities that foster interaction among seniors, along with counseling appointments, while researchers at UC Irvine are identifying risk factors and tips on how a person can avoid becoming a victim of abuse.

At the community center, seniors can make free appointments three days per week (Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays) to speak with a case manager. The center also provides 10 free sessions dedicated to patients with mental health issues called "Feeling the Blues," which is one-on-one counseling with a trained therapist.

Services are open to seniors from Laguna Beach and other South County cities.

A nurse from the county also visits the center once a month for free one-on-one appointments with seniors. The nurse provides health assessments, screenings and referrals and tracks ongoing problems with physical or emotional ailments, Edmond said.

In Orange County, more than 800 reports of elder abuse and neglect occur each month, according to Kerry Burnight, a professor in the division of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology and director of the UCI School of Medicine's Elder Abuse Forensic Center.

Studies have shown that as many as 1 in 10 older adults is a victim of elder abuse in the U.S., and this number increases to 1 in 2 for those with dementia, according to Ageless Alliance, a national elder-abuse awareness and social-justice movement based at UC Irvine.

On top of that, she said, for every one report in the U.S., 23 cases of elder abuse go unreported.

"The scope is quite shocking," Burnight said.

The Orange County Social Services Agency groups elder abuse into four categories: physical abuse, neglect, psychological or emotional abuse, and financial abuse..

Older adults can be susceptible to financial abuse because they may have savings that their children or family members may be eyeing — erroneously feeling entitled to help themselves to the money that will "be theirs someday," according to Burnight.

The effort gets a further boost from UC Irvine, which is home to the National Center on Elder Abuse, co-directed by Laura Mosqueda and Mary Twomey. The federally funded center is ground zero for information, research and advocacy on elder abuse and offering strategies to attack the problem.