Crimes Against the Elderly

Potential scams and ways in which people are wrongfully trying to separate an elderly person from their money or possessions.

STATISTICS FOR LOS ANGELES COUNTY

Under the law, a person is considered to be an elder if the person is aged 65 years or older. Statistically, 1 in 5 elders have been victims of fraud in California in recent years.   The State of California has the largest elder population in the nation. Los Angeles County alone has more elders that the entire State of Arizona.

The senior population in Los Angeles County is expected to double in the next two decades to over 2 million people. Also, 70% of our nation’s wealth is held by our senior population. Unfortunately, for con artists, “bad” caregivers, greedy relatives, and strangers, these statistics point to a great opportunity for theft.

ELDERS ARE VULNERABLE AS VICTIMS

Elders, especially those who grew up during the Great Depression, are fiercely independent, and want to live in their own home until their death. They do not want to go to a retirement or assisted living facility, or to a nursing home as they perceive that in doing so they are going away from their home to die.

Living at home, alone, even with occasional caregivers, leaves the elder susceptible to the work of unscrupulous people. Elders are often isolated from others. This isolation makes them eager for attention and conversation. They are often polite and trusting of strangers. Sometimes, they have limited physical or cognitive abilities. Also, it is likely that they grew up with different social values than exist today for younger generations.

These characteristics makes them ideal targets for people who commit elder abuse. Unfortunately, it is the family member, caregiver, or the trusted professional who most often takes advantage of the elder. They may also be taken advantage of by neighbors, new “friends”, telemarketers, and outright con artists.

WHAT KIND OF ABUSE IS PROSECUTED?

The District Attorney’s Office prosecuted all kinds of cases involving our elder population, such as murder, sexual assault, residential burglaries, physical neglect or abuse, as well as financial abuse.

There are three (3) kinds of financial crimes against an elder:

  1. Stealing – the taking of money or property without the elder’s consent.
  1. Lack of Consent – it is a crime to take money or property from an elder who lacks the capacity to consent to the action.
  1. Fraud or Deceit – it is also a crime to obtain an elder’s consent by means of trickery, fraud, or deceit.

POSSIBLE INDICATIONS OF A CRIME

Sometimes a lonely elder is approached by a stranger who is very friendly and kind. This person might visit frequently, perhaps even every day. The person demonstrates great interest in the elder, sometimes offering to take the elder somewhere for a meal or to a movie or theater, or to the grocery store. During this time of getting acquainted, the person asks questions of the elder such as: what is the elder’s financial stability or situation? What is the elder’s plans for future care of himself or herself? The person may ask to see the elder’s financial records or estate planning documents and offer to either get the elder person organized, or assist in obtaining benefits or medical care that the elder may need. All of this may be done out of ostensible care and concern for the elder.

Sometimes there is unusual banking activity that may alert a bank representative or a family member that the elder may be a victim of fraud. There may be a new ATM card requested, or a change of statement address. Maybe there is online banking established even though the elder does not have a computer or may not know how to use one. Perhaps there are changes in the spending habit of the elder which is out of his or her ordinary routine.

Sometimes this person newly interested in the elder may take him or her to an attorney or legal document preparer with the request to give this new person the power of attorney so that the new person can assist the elder with their financial matters.

Elders who have been victims of fraud may give implausible explanations of unusual activity or they may suddenly ask their grandchildren for money to pay their utilities or for some other basic need.

OTHER KINDS OF SCAMS ON THE ELDERLY

There are automobile scams in which an elder drives to the grocery store and on the way in is approached by a person who claims that the elder hit that person=s car. He shows the elder the damage to the car and then demands money so as not to go through the insurance company for a claim.

There are sweetheart scams where a person “dates” the elder, offering to take care of him or her and inquiring about the elder’s financial affairs. It can be hard for an elder’s family members to discern whether the new person in the elder’s life is truly someone who cares for the elder or is merely someone who is out for the elder’s money. Often, an indication may be that the new person tries to isolate the elder from his or her family so that the elder is solely dependent on him or her.

Sometimes the con artist gets the elder to trust him or her and then asks for the elder to invest in the con artist’s business or venture, without documentation, and usually with a need for a large amount of cash up front. The elder rarely is able to get his or her money back from such schemes, even if the con artist is successfully prosecuted for the crime.

YOU CAN HELP:   If you think someone you know is a possible victim of a crime like one described in this newsletter, please call the Elder Abuse Hotline: 1-877-477-3646 of Adult Protective Services.