If you think about it, you’ll remember periodically hearing public service announcements (PSAs) warning senior citizens and their loved ones about their risk of becoming defrauded. This isn’t an isolated threat that older individuals face but instead a persistent concern vulnerable populations must be cognizant of.
Below, we’ll discuss all you need to know about elder fraud, including what it entails and why seniors are most apt to be defrauded. We’ll also tackle how you can best protect your loved one from it happening to them and the course of action available to you if someone violates the trust of someone close to you.
What Is Elder Fraud?
Any tactic employed that aims to deprive an aging individual of their right to make decisions, especially that carry with them financial implications, may constitute elder fraud.
One of the more common ways seniors are defrauded is in regard to their wills. It’s not uncommon for deceptive individuals to subject elderly ones to abuse or coercion to motivate an elderly individual to leave behind certain valuable assets to them upon their death. Any allegations of undue influence like this can ultimately get a will invalidated during the South Carolina probate process.
It’s important to note that a fraudster can cause your elderly loved one emotional and physical suffering in addition to financial harm long before their death, though.
How Common Is Elder Fraud?
Elderly individuals are particularly vulnerable to falling victim to elder fraud compared to other populations for reasons that we’ll delve into deeper below.
While you might assume the rates at which this demographic is defrauded is high, it’s not. Only 2.5% of older persons report being taken financially advantage of every year. Some analysts argue that the reason these reports are shockingly low is because the alleged fraud is highly unreported. Of those reported and potentially prosecuted instances of fraud, these carry an alarming annual financial loss of between $3 to $36 billion.
Why Are Seniors Vulnerable To Being Defrauded?
Research conducted by Marketplace uncovered how a staggering 83% of United States consumer financial resources are owned by individuals over age 50. U.S. residents in their 70s and 80s have the highest concentration of wealth among this broader demographic.
Fraudsters tend to take advantage of seniors because they aren’t only most likely to have more significant financial assets than other populations, but are also more apt to fit into one of the following categories compared to other demographics:
- Have received a cognitive impairment diagnosis
- Reside alone
- Rely on others for their necessities, including food or medication
- Have visual or hearing difficulties
As for cognitive impairments, such as memory or thinking disorders, the above-referenced Marketplace study cites how many Americans experience such declines in mental acuity beginning as early as at 53 years old. They note that this deficit can significantly affect a person’s ability to adequately manage their finances.
While an elderly loved one who resides alone is certainly vulnerable to being defrauded, so too are those who live in nursing homes. Their caregivers may be the fraudsters in cases like this. They may inflict mental and physical tyranny upon elderly residents to have them act as they please. Some of the more common types of abuse or neglect that happen in these assisted living environments at the hands of staff include:
- Withholding food
- Subjecting residents to physical violence or emotional abuse
- Disallowing bathroom use
- Failing to administer proper hygiene if residents soil themselves
- Forcing residents to take chances to move about unassisted, leaving the elderly vulnerable to falls due to neglect
Our lawyers regularly represents elderly individuals who have been taken advantage of by others physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially.
How Can You Protect Your Elderly Loved One From Fraud?
Since financial exploitation is the primary motivation behind the fraud, the implementation of some of the following strategies can minimize the chances of your elderly loved one falling victim to this tactic:
- Taking time to add an elderly loved one’s home or cell phone number to “no-call” lists to minimize the chances of someone reaching out to scam them
- Assigning financial power of attorney rights to someone they trust to make banking, real estate, and other money-involved decisions on their behalf
- Signing up for alerts on bank and investment accounts and with credit card companies
- Having verbal passwords on accounts or designees transactions must be approved with the bank before they can go through
Some aging individuals look too fondly upon their adult kids or anyone else close to them trying to call the shots when it comes to their money and will resist any infringing on their rights as long as they can. Under some circumstances, it may be possible for you to secure either a guardianship or conservatorship over your aging loved one to protect them from fraudsters and their money-siphoning tactics.
You and your elderly loved one must meet certain criteria to qualify to establish one of these legal arrangements. One of those may be showing that your senior loved one is experiencing some age or medically-induced cognitive decline affecting their soundness of mind.
What Are Your Rights When Someone Has Defrauded You?
One of the reasons why you see many PSAs on the news warning of the latest elder fraud scams that are going around is to help others avoid the financially devastating consequences this crime can have on aging individuals’ lives.
It’s often challenging to track down fraudsters and recoup any funds lost. Even if it’s possible, it doesn’t erase the feelings of distrust or the emotional and physical scars left behind by abuse.
Know that South Carolina law may allow you to hold any parties, such as a nursing home, civilly liable for the abuse or neglect that resulted in you being defrauded. A lawyer here at The Solomon Law Group can aid you in determining if you have a valid case to pursue and what you can expect as an outcome if you win. Contact us today to learn more about your legal options in your case.