The fastest growing crime associated with elder abuse is financial fraud. The definition of elder abuse from a financial standpoint is when someone improperly or illegally uses assets or funds that belong to a senior citizen in an improper manner. Seniors are sometimes in a very vulnerable state, and when someone takes advantage of them, it is a crime in most states. Most states now have strict laws that punish such perpetrators and provide the means to assist seniors.
Elder abuse is difficult to combat, because is not often reported. Many of the victims are too embarrassed, not aware, too confused, and fearful to report the crime. A recent report in Consumer’s digest estimated that in America today, there are over 5 million situations of this type of abuse that take place each year. Only about one in twenty-five cases ultimately reported.
Protection from this kind of abuse can be prevented if people become aware of the scams that are the most common and learn about what can be done if foul play is suspected.
The AARP conducted a study recently that characterized the traits that older people have that make them easy targets for financial abuse.
Elderly people generally expect other people to be honest in their dealings in the marketplace, and if they are taken advantage of, they are less likely to speak up and they are not aware of their rights in such matters either. The complexity of bank accounts, online shopping and the sheer numbers of thieves and scam artists is enough to tax the minds of people who are savvy about these matters, let along our older citizens. Seniors are also more likely to be at home during the day and are thus very vulnerable.
Scammers will purposely target seniors who are isolated, lonely, those who are challenged physically or mentally, those who are unfamiliar with their own finances, or those who have recently lost a spouse. The scam artist will often be in the form of a trusted advisor. They can be a stranger such as someone on the computer, or a member of the family, a friend, or somebody else with a relation to the elder person, such as a lawyer, an accountant or a banker or caregivers of any variety.
It is difficult to catch elder abuse scammers, because they may have done the same thing before, and they have become rather good at it. They may have credentials that may appear to give them some kind of authority such as a power of attorney, forged signature cards, and other inroads that they uncover by being close to the victim.
Conduct that results in a scam against an older person can take the form of outright theft, in the case of money and jewelry, to forging legal documents such as wills or deeds, or paying to get care that is not given.
Telemarketing scams are very prevalent as is mail fraud. According to the US Department of Justice, it is estimated that over $40 billion each year is stolen from people by telemarketers that are crooks. This happens to one in six consumers in America. The AARP estimates that roughly 80 percent of these cases are 50 years or older. The phone is used by these crooks to defraud people out of their money with phony investment schemes, credit card schemes, lottery scams, and identity theft. They also use the telephone to sell worthless items of no value at all to unsuspecting seniors.
Many scams are perpetrated by “sweethearts” that pose as legitimate suitors, and then disappear when they get the money or the property that they were pursuing in the first place. Such items as jewellery, cash, cars, property and anything else that they can get their hands on. They end up being included on joint bank accounts and cars, and then they disappear along with the money.
Excessive charges on products and schemes that they “sweet talk” the elder person into thinking that they must have it, and then they overcharge for way more than it is worth, or hide the excess behind high instalments. These types of products are often things that the seniors feel that they need and cannot get along without such as hearing aids, and safety devices that alert medics and emergency responders.
One of the most egregious scams is the obtaining of money or property through undue influence or fraud in the guise that it is in the best interest of the senior to do so, to “protect” the property. Many times the senior ends up with no place to live and the scammers are long gone after they have sold the property or the house, and pocketed the money.
The best way to thwart these schemes is for family members, church friends, and other trustworthy people to keep a close watch on who the seniors meet and befriend. Sometimes this can be a daunting task, especially if the senior is socially active, but it must be done. They are so trusting, that many times things can happen fast. It is also a good idea to educate the senior to the fact that they make no decisions unless a family member is there with them at the time.
Published by Lauren Clarke