Elder financial abuse and exploitation can have a devastating impact on senior adults and their families for generations. AARP’s recent article entitled “The Legal Consequences of Elder Fraud Can Be Steep” reports that romance scams are on the rise. Older, lonely, or heartbroken adults are common targets. In Florida in 2020, $40.1 million was stolen from victims who were victims of a crime ring or bad actor posing as a potential suitor.
Some people lose their whole life savings in a matter of months.
Many other financial crimes are carried out by fraudsters, such as phony investment scams, phone and gift card scams, lottery scams, Medicare and Social Security scams and more.
There is no limit on how creative these criminals can be. Family, friends, and caregivers are also not immune from skimming funds for their own use.
The average amount lost per victim is $34,000. When a person is acting as a fiduciary, the number soars to $83,000. The older the victim, the greater the average amount of stolen assets.
One essential step that can reduce the risk of financial exploitation is to appoint an Agent under a Durable Financial Power of Attorney. This helps the individual identify those they trust with financial matters. Once the Agent is appointed, they can monitor accounts and spending to detect signs of fraud or exploitation.
Another option is to create a trust, appointing a trusted family member or friend or even a financial institution to manage bills and accounts. Talk with an experienced Elder Law and Estate Planning attorney for the best options.
As soon as exploitation is suspected or confirmed, action should be taken. When exploitation is suspected, take these steps to help law enforcement investigate and prosecute the criminals:
- Talk to the victim, who may not be aware of the exploitation
- Contact the authorities and follow their instructions
- Notify financial advisers who may be able to put a freeze on accounts
- Document the victim’s interactions with the suspect
- Talk to all witnesses to interactions between the suspect and victim; and
- Talk to an elder law attorney who can discuss your legal options regarding guardianship or conservatorship if the victim lacks capacity to handle their own affairs.
Reference: AARP (Feb. 22, 2022) “The Legal Consequences of Elder Fraud Can Be Steep”