As I mentioned in my previous article about mortgage fraud, in this series I will describe other criminal behavior that accompanies the crime of property title fraud, one of which is Financial Elder Abuse. Not surprisingly, you can find examples of the financial exploitation of elderly people in many contexts, and this article will provide a mere sampling of these crimes. I was actually interviewed about this topic by The List TV, and I explained why older folks tend to fall victim to fraudsters.
It seems like every day we read about a scam that targets senior citizens, and any theft or fraud crime against an elderly person is considered financial elder abuse. The legal details of the crime will vary slightly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction; for example, to charge someone with financial elder abuse in California, the victim must be 65 or older, whereas under federal law, the age is 60. However, the underlying acts will be the same and may include deed fraud, forgery of powers of attorney, fake lottery scams, romance scams, telemarketing fraud and more. Oftentimes these dirty deeds are committed by family members.
First, the basics: Let’s understand what fraud is
As I described recently in another post, fraud is simply Theft by Lie, or the intentional misstatement of facts (or omission of important facts) to convince a person to do something that they would not do if they knew the truth. The following are some recent examples of fraud (or theft by lie) against senior citizens:
- Stolen identities used to buy cell phones – As journalist Caroline Tien recently reported in Newsweek , Darrel Sharpeson, 37, stole the identities of residents at a retirement community in Brentwood, Long Island, and he used these identities to fill out loan applications and buy cell phones. One can only imagine what other crimes he needed to cover up such that he needed cell phones in other people’s names.
- Assisted living employee steals cash, checks and credit cards – It is reported in the Del Mar Times by journalist Alex Riggins that Nema Yasin Mohamed, 28, used her intimate access to vulnerable elderly victims to – essentially – pick their pockets. The most shocking aspect of this story is that Ms. Mohamed had been convicted of financial elder abuse on two prior occasions.
- Caregiver uses power of attorney to rip off patients – According to MyNewsLa.com, a caregiver was given power of attorney by her clients to manage their financial affairs. Instead, she used her undeserved authority to embezzle $300,000 from them.
In most cases of fraud, the con artist needs gain the trust of their target. The unique thing about elder fraud is that the targets are particularly vulnerable, so sometimes the caregiver can use undue influence rather than trust. This could be a paid caregiver or even a relative, who have both access and power over the victim.
Let’s look at a particularly evil example of fraud against an elderly homeowner.
Foreclosure Rescue Fraud Against an Elderly Homeowner
Are you sitting down? Because this one will knock your socks off.
A senior citizen homeowner, named “George”, fell behind on his payments and the mortgage company filed a notice of default, which initiated the foreclosure process. Now, George had a significant amount of equity in his house – $200,000 to be exact – so he had some good options. He could have sold the house and used the proceeds to buy something smaller in a less expensive location. Perhaps he could have refinanced into better interest rate or a reverse mortgage, and maybe he could have gotten a loan modification.
Irving – I don’t mind using his real name because I prosecuted him – was a con artist who preyed on people like George. He would contact people who were in foreclosure and make them believe that he (Irving) was their only hope, and that they had no other options. He would then negotiate a monthly fee that they would pay him, and then he would use fraudulent deeds and bankruptcy fraud to delay the foreclosure of the home indefinitely. All along, he told the victims that he was working on a solution for them, and they continued to pay him.
In George’s case, Irving filed 16 fraudulent deeds, each one giving away a 10% share of George’s home to a fictitious business entity that Irving controlled. Each of these deeds temporarily postponed the foreclosure, but in the end, Irving let the bank foreclose on George’s home, and George received none of the equity. Zero. Zilch. Nada.
Where to Report Financial Abuse of the Elderly
Make a Police Report Immediately : If you are a senior citizen and believe you are a victim of financial elder abuse or if you know someone whom you believe is a victim, the first thing you need to do is make a police report. Most police agencies have detectives who specialize in investigating this type of crime, and some larger police departments have whole units dedicated to it. You want to let the detectives start their work as quickly as possible.
Also, many jurisdictions have multi-agency task forces to handle these situations, and the police will be able to mobilize those services quickly.
Make a Report to the Administration of the Nursing Home : If the victim lives in a retirement community or some type of nursing home, let management know immediately. They will need to preserve evidence, do their own internal investigation, possibly fire the perpetrator, and assist the police in the criminal investigation.
Talk to an accountant or lawyer : If possible, contact a professional to help unwind the damage done by the con artist. If real property is involved, the lawyer might need to file a “quiet title” lawsuit to clear up title. If bank accounts and investment accounts are involved, the accountant can help with those matters.
Conclusion: Financial Elder Abuse is Theft or Fraud from a Vulnerable Senior Citizen
Just as lions prey on old and sick antelopes, con artists look for the vulnerable members of our society. Unfortunately, many senior citizens fall into this category. Stealing from senior citizens or committing fraud against them is its own category of crime that typically has more punitive sentencing options for judges. In spite of this, perpetrators of this crime rarely get prosecuted and those that do rarely receive long prison sentences. This means we need to continue to watch over and protect the older folks in our lives.
– David Fleck, CEO