Elder abuse is not limited to physical violence or neglect. Because seniors are also susceptible to elder financial abuse California attorneys know the signs and can help you determine whether you need to be concerned. According to a 2013 study, millions of elderly citizens are victims of financial abuse, including “unfair, deceptive, or abusive practices.” It is estimated that this elder financial abuse results in an average loss or more than $140,000 per victim.
An example of financial abuse in California
You may have heard of the insurance agent in Southern California who was arrested for elder financial abuse. John Paul Slawinski was charged with “five felony counts of financial elder abuse and five counts of burglary.” It was alleged that he scammed senior citizens out of more than $2 million through the sale and surrender of investment annuity products.
Complaints received by the California Department of Insurance resulted in an investigation of Slawinski. According to the complaints, the insurance agent had convinced five seniors to give up annuities and investments based on the promise of higher returns on their money. The catch was, Slawinksi never purchased additional annuities or investment products and he never gave back the funds. In other words, he defrauded the customers into giving him money to invest, with which he never intended to actually invest.
How did the insurance agent pull off the fraud?
Slawinski allegedly gave each of the seniors fraudulent financial statements in an effort to cover up his deceit. He then issued minimum investment payments in order to convince them that their insurance investments were secure. Based on the allegations, the insurance agent took advantage of being in a position of trust, as well as, preying on the vulnerability of the elderly.
Who are considered the “easy marks” for financial fraud and abuse?
According to a study conducted a few years ago by MetLife Mature Market Institute, elder financial abuse costs seniors close to $3 billion a year. Statistically, it seems women are twice as likely to become victims as men, with most people being between the ages of 80 and 89, living alone, and requiring some level of help with either health care or home maintenance. Because of their particular state of vulnerability, the elderly are often seen as “easy marks.”
Elder financial abuse California residents suffer may be understated
The reality is, many cases of elder financial abuse go unreported. Why? Many victims do not report the financial abuse because they are ashamed. While others suffer from diminished mental capacity and do not even realize they have been taken advantage of. Some are afraid to report the abuse because they fear being placed in a nursing home by family members who believe they can no longer take care of themselves.
Often abuse comes from family members
Unfortunately, it is all too common for seniors to be exploited by their own family members. Relatives and caregivers are often those with the closest and easiest access to potential victims. While some reports say nearly one-third of elder financial abuse comes at the hands of a family member, this number may not really be accurate as seniors are typically hesitant to report their relatives.
Awareness is the key to prevention
If you are a loved one or caregiver, here are some of the most common warning signs of potential elder financial fraud and abuse:
- Unexplained bank withdrawals.
- Unauthorized use of a credit or ATM card.
- Stolen or misplaced credit cards or a checkbook.
- Unexplained withdrawals from brokerage accounts.
- Checks written as “cash,” “loan” or “gift.”
- Abrupt changes in a will or other documents.
- Unexplained transfer of assets to a family member or someone outside the family.
- The disappearance of valuables.
- The sudden appearance of a previously uninvolved relative claiming a right to an elder’s affairs or possessions.
- New signers on accounts
Basically, if you, a loved one or an elderly neighbor or friend has become a victim of financial abuse, the first step is to contact the authorities. These predators rely on the silence of their victims to continue to prey on others. If you have concerns but are not sure whether abuse is actually occurring, contact your elder law attorney to discuss the situation.
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