We have all heard the shocking accounts of seniors being the victims of physical abuse in their own homes and in retirement facilities. However, the problem of financial fraud perpetrated on the elderly does not get as much attention. Combine these two facts:
- Family members or trusted caregivers commit 90 percent of the financial abuse on seniors, and
- Defrauded older adults only report 1 in 44 cases of fraud,
and you see why ripping off aging Americans is the perfect storm. It is easy to rip off vulnerable older adults, when they are too afraid or embarrassed to report their abuser. When the victim is suffering from cognitive decline, you might as well paint a target on her back. Here are some things you need to know about the epidemic of elder financial fraud.
Common Tactics Used to Defraud Seniors
Sometimes elder financial abuse is part of an organized scheme, like these examples:
- A stranger knocks on the senior’s door and offers to trim trees, seal-coat the driveway, deliver firewood or some other service. He demands cash up-front, then never returns to do the work, or he does a partial or sub-standard job.
- A home improvement company pressures the older adult into signing contracts for expensive home renovations, often in league with a shady financing company. The senior cannot afford the monthly payments, and risks losing his home.
- Someone telephones the elderly person claiming her grandchild has a medical emergency or legal trouble in another country, and needs the grandmother to wire money.
Other types of financial abuse are unscrupulous individuals, usually family members or close trusted friends or caregivers. These rip-off artists treat older adults like a piggy bank. They steal cash or other valuables from seniors, run up debt on their credit cards, or “help” them by running errands like grocery shopping, but also buy things for themselves using the older person’s money.
How to Help a Victim of Elder Financial Abuse
If you suspect that a senior has been the victim of financial abuse, contact law enforcement right away. When caught early enough, the police sometimes can get financial institutions to reverse transactions and return the money to the senior.
How a Lawyer Can Help
Whether there is a criminal prosecution or not, an elder law attorney might be able to file a lawsuit against the con artist to get the elderly victim’s money back. Judges and juries are sympathetic in these situations, but the cases can be challenging, due to a lack of laws that adequately protect our aging population.
A lawyer can also help you take legal steps to protect the senior from future financial harm. A durable power of attorney for financial matters can give you the authority to keep her money out of the hands of those who would take advantage of her. Setting controls on her financial accounts, such as requiring two signatures on all checks over $100, can also protect her. Having her monthly income direct-deposited into her bank account can prevent people from stealing her checks out of the mailbox. A lawyer can look at your loved one’s specific circumstances and help you to develop a plan to keep her safe.
You should talk with an elder law attorney in your area to assist with your older loved-ones.
HuffPost. “Elder Fraud and Abuse: A Silent Epidemic.” (accessed July 19, 2018) https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/elder-fraud-and-abuse-a-silent-epidemic_us_5823338de4b0102262411f47