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Elder Abuse and Undue Influence Awareness

Did you commemorate World Elder Abuse Awareness Day? June 15, 2017 marked the twelfth annual World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, or WEAAD. Elder abuse, especially elder financial exploitation, has been called the crime of the 21st century. However, based on national surveys, elder abuse remains one of the least investigated and least addressed types of violence in national action plans. Experts predict that by the year 2025, the global population of those aged 60 years and older will more than double, from 542 million in 1995 to about 1.2 billion. As the global elderly population grows, so does the risk of financial abuse.

To raise awareness around the world and promote a better understanding of abuse of older adults, the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization at the United Nations launched WEAAD in 2006. WEAAD’s theme this year focused on preventing financial exploitation of the elderly in the context of human rights. The 2017 WEAAD also stressed the need for countries to take concrete action and develop strategies addressing financial exploitation for older adults.

Elder financial exploitation is the illegal or improper use of an older person’s property, funds, or assets. It is one of the most common and harmful forms of elder abuse. Perpetrators target older adults for many reasons. First, adults over the age of 50 control over 70% of the nation’s wealth.  Many elderly people develop disabilities and must rely on caregivers or other helpers to handle their financial assets. Further, older adults may not even understand or realize the value of their assets. Not only can elder financial exploitation damage one’s financial security, it can also affect physical and emotional wellbeing. According to the United Nations Division for Social Policy and Development Ageing, 5-10% of older people globally may experience some kind of financial exploitation. However, few cases of financial exploitation are addressed by law enforcement or protective services. This is due partly to victims’ embarrassment or shame in being deceived, or inability to report it because of cognitive or other disabilities.

Perpetrators of elder financial exploitation can be anyone from a close family member—such as a son, daughter, or grandchild—to a complete stranger who actively seeks out vulnerable older adults with the intent to exploit them.  Perpetrators may also include financial professionals or businesspersons who may overcharge for services or use deceptive business practices to gain a foothold into an older adult’s assets.

Specific conduct involving elder financial abuse also comprises a myriad of actions. These may include taking an older adult’s money or property, using scams or cons (confidence crimes that use deception to gain an elderly person’s confidence and trust), forging signatures, employing undue influence or deception to get an older adult to sign a deed or will, or making fraudulent promises in exchange for money or property. Older adults should be cognizant of any of the following warning signs: missing property, unpaid bills or eviction notices, unexplained transfers or withdrawals from bank accounts, suspicious signatures on legal documents or checks, absence of bank statements, or any other unusual activity regarding an older person’s bank accounts.

To combat harmful effects of elder abuse, WEAAD works to engage institutions and communities. In particular, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has appealed to financial institutions such as banks and credit unions, because such institutions are uniquely positioned to detect and respond to elder financial abuse. Financial institutions know their customers and members, and can intervene effectively if they detect that an elder account holder has been targeted. CFPB has also developed recommendations for financial institutions, including adopting procedures to prevent elder financial exploitation, knowing the state laws that define elder financial exploitation, and recognizing the warning signs. However, in the event that a financial institution does not notice the red flags of elder financial exploitation, one should be aware of the risks.

The foregoing provides a brief overview of the issue of elder financial exploitation. If you feel that you or a loved one has been subjected to elder financial exploitation, you should consult an attorney.  Please do not hesitate to contact the lawyers at Chepenik Trushin LLP, who are experienced, ready, and willing to help.