It seems like every month, there is a news broadcast of a new form of elder financial abuse. Statistically, it is very prevalent, especially among individuals with dementia who are residing alone in the community.
Unfortunately, elder financial abuse comes in many forms. One version is where a trusted advisor, family member or caregiver with whom the senior has a relationship takes the senior to an attorney to execute a new Last Will and Testament, changing the existing estate plan in favor of the trusted individual. These are difficult cases to enforce because by the time the fraud is discovered the victim is deceased.
Another variety of elder financial fraud is tech support fraud, where there is a pop up on the senior’s computer screen that routes the victim to a bogus website to input information. Someone calls the senior and asks the person to send in money for software that doesn’t exist. The perpetrator remotes into the computer and tells the senior to log into the bank account. Then the perpetrator minimizes the window and withdraws funds without permission from the senior’s account. Some con artists may pose as representatives of well-known industry giants such as Microsoft and Google.
There are romance scams where someone pretends to be in a relationship and convinces the senior to send money. There are lottery scams and prize scams where a senior is asked to pay money to get the winnings. But the majority of elder financial abuse the SEC sees is theft. These cases are hard to put together due to the challenges of gathering the evidence.
In many cases, the victims may not even realize they have been victimized, or they may have had a long term relationship with their trusted advisor or family member and just convincing the senior to speak with an investigator or another attorney is problematic. It may be easier for seniors to talk about financial abuse by emphasizing that this also happens to younger people and to focus on protecting yourself. Reassure them that their fear of compromising their appearance of competency and independence if they complain will likely not materialize. Do not hesitate to report the incidents to the authorities. This is an area of enforcement which the Securities Exchange Commission and other federal agencies are currently focusing on and there are a lot of resources at both the state and local levels.
Questions? Let Jane know.
Jane Fearn-Zimmer is a shareholder in the Elder and Disability Law, Taxation, and Trusts and Estates Groups. She dedicates her practice to serving clients in the areas of elder and disability law, special needs planning, asset protection, tax and estate planning and estate administration. She also serves as Chair of the Elder & Disability Law section of the NJSBA.