Consumer Reports recently wrote an article about exploitation of seniors, “Protecting Mom & Dad’s Money”. It will be included in their January 2013 edition. Our Las Vegas law firm has been helping protect seniors from financial exploitation for over seventeen years, and we wanted to share this article with Nevada families to help bring awareness and to provide information on where to turn for help.
If you or a loved has been financially exploited and need assistance please contact our experienced lawyers at the Law Offices of Lee A. Drizin at 702-798-4955.
WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU SUSPECT FINANCIAL ABUSE
Consumer Reports Magazine: January 2013
The New York Post called it the “swindle trial.” Jurors likened it to a “Shakespearean tragedy.” When New York socialite Anthony D. Marshall was convicted of defrauding and stealing from his elderly mother, philanthropist Brooke Astor, reports detailed how he conspired with lawyer Francis Morrissey to amend her will in his favor, took millions without her consent, and lifted paintings from her walls while she languished in her Park Avenue home. The trial painted a portrait of greed and filial neglect. Both men were sentenced to one to three years in prison and are currently out pending appeal.Elsie Brooks’s lifestyle was a world apart from Astor’s, but their stories are tragically similar. When she was 72 she sold her mobile home and moved in with her daughter and granddaughter in Monterey, Calif. She decided she didn’t want to deal with her finances any longer and let the two take control. But her daughter, Lisa Karen MacAdams, and granddaughter, Christi Schoenbachler, drained Brooks of jewelry, furniture, and an annuity worth almost $90,000, and abandoned her at a nursing facility, according to court documents. They were convicted of grand theft and financial elder abuse, both felonies, and two counts of misdemeanor elder abuse. Last summer, a California appeals court stayed one of Schoenbachler’s misdemeanor charges.
Elder financial abuse is “the ultimate betrayal,” says Colleen Toy White, a superior court judge in Ventura County, Calif., who sees roughly 40 cases of such abuse each month. “It’s shocking to see how vulnerable the elder person is.”
We’ve told you about scams by strangers, among them fraudulent sweepstakes phone calls and investments, and grandparent scams (“Scamnation!,” October 2012 issue). Far more insidious are deceptions by neighbors, friends, employees, and relatives—the very people entrusted to care for and protect seniors.
Such abuse can be financially and emotionally devastating. And experts say it’s likely to increase because of a stalled economy and an aging population. Awareness is rising thanks to cases such as Astor’s. Yet because seniors might not recognize when it happens to them or are too ashamed to speak, the crime lurks largely out of sight.
In a randomized New York telephone survey released in 2011, for instance, seniors mentioned being victims of financial exploitation more frequently than any other type of abuse. Yet the study estimated that only 1 in 44 incidents of financial elder abuse is officially documented.
“Nearly every time I lecture on financial abuse, people will approach me with their personal stories,” says Elizabeth Loewy, a Manhattan assistant district attorney and lead prosecutor on the Marshall case. “They will talk to me about their grandmother, aunt, or neighbor, usually a senior with cognitive issues, who had ‘this problem.’ And it’s like a light will go on, and they’ll ask, ‘So this could be a crime?’ ”
Financial exploitation of elders is broadly defined as the illegal or improper use of the funds, property, or assets of people 60 and older. In the New York survey, 4.2 percent of older people surveyed said that they’d been exploited by family members or others. In a national study from 2009, 5.2 percent of older Americans said they’d been victimized by family members, and 6.5 percent said they’d been exploited by others. A seminal national study by the MetLife Mature Market Institute found that the cost of such abuses is at least $2.9 billion a year. Yet John Migliaccio, the institute’s director of research and gerontology, acknowledges that the study’s methodology—pulling from compiled news reports of abuse—underestimates the crime’s true price. “What we’re seeing is a tip of the iceberg,” he says.
Nevertheless, the study reports some startling facts: In 107 cases, seniors lost an average of more than $145,000 from fraud committed by family, friends, caregivers, and neighbors. In 159 cases involving fraud by strangers, the average loss was more than $95,000.
Studies of investment abuses tell similar stories. In a survey last year of about 2,600 financial planners by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, 56 percent said they knew older clients who had been subject to unfair, deceptive, or abusive practices. Among reported cases, the average loss estimate was $140,500; the median was $50,000. Only a quarter of surveyed CFPs said the crimes’ perpetrators rarely or never knew the victim.
Law-enforcement and social-services professionals see exploitation rising sharply. Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin’s office opened 128 financial-elder-abuse cases in 2011, a 40 percent rise from 2010. Paul Greenwood, a deputy district attorney in San Diego and head of the county’s elder-abuse protection unit, says the office will prosecute about 200 cases this year. “I’ve never been busier,” he says.
Better reporting contributes to that growth, Greenwood says. So does the flat economy. “As people become more desperate from the economy, they need that extra money,” says Sally Smith, adult protective services case manager supervisor at the Franklin County (Ohio) Office on Aging.
– Article Part 2 & 3 coming January 2013
WHERE TO TURN FOR INFORMATION AND HELP
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Office of Financial Protection for Older Americans receives and investigates consumer fraud complaints specifically related to mortgages, credit cards, banks, loans, and more.
Eldercare Locator (800-677-1116) refers and connects callers to local services in their communities, including meal and transport services, home care, support services, services for caregivers, and others.
National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (703-942-5711) offers a search for lawyers specializing in durable powers of attorney, conservatorship, estate planning, elder abuse, and other concerns.
National Adult Protective Services Association provides a national map with links to abuse-reporting hotlines by state.
National Center on Elder Abuse has links to additional state directories of help lines, hotlines and elder-abuse prevention resources in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
AARP Money Management Program pairs seniors of limited resources or people with disabilities with trained money-management volunteers. One service helps seniors who remain in control of their finances to balance their checkbooks and pay bills; the other focuses on those deemed incapable of handling their own funds. The program is offered in 21 states and the District of Columbia, though availability varies.
American Association of Daily Money Managers has members nationwide who can assist seniors with bill-paying, banking, insurance paperwork, and organizing records in preparation for income-tax filing, among other tasks.
National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers includes professionals who can facilitate aspects of seniors’ lives, including monitoring home-care workers, managing medical appointments, and identifying potential exploitation risks, among other services. Some geriatric-care managers can also pay bills and handle paperwork.
AARP’s Scams and Fraud page offers information on the latest frauds against older people.
Better Business Bureau Scam Stopper has information on common scams and instructions on reporting a scam. You can sign up for scam alerts on the site.