Articles Posted in Financial abuse and exploitation

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We are in the heart of tax season, with less than a month left before the April 15th filing deadline. As you sort through your personal paperwork your head may spin while trying to understand complex rules regarding deductions, tax rates, and more. Financial matters are complex. That is exactly why professionals are involved in many transactions, because it is difficult for regular community members to figure it out on their own.

Unfortunately, it is for the very same reasons that senior financial exploitation is such a common problem. Anyone is at risk of having their money taken in various scheme, but seniors have unique vulnerabilities that make them prime targets for abuse.

Considering finances are on the mind of many Chicagoans this season, it is a perfect time to offer some reminders about the prevalence of elder financial exploitation and the signs that may indicate a senior in your life is affected.

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Elder financial exploitation is often considered the most prevalent form of senior abuse. Estimates on the scope of the problem are notoriously difficult, because many seniors lie about being exploited, But, many peg the number at upwards of one in every ten seniors being taken advantage for their money in some capacity.

One of the reasons why it is difficult to curb this problem is that those abusing in this way infiltrate the lives of senior over a period of months or even years. Therefore, rooting out the mistreatment requires dealing with individuals that the seniors has entrenched relationships.

Illinois Senior Financial Exploitation

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When considering misconduct and abuse of power at nursing homes, most residents and their families worry about physical abuse and neglect. Far too many have been forced to deal with a senior loved one’s untimely death or serious injury which could have been prevented if caregivers had simply done their job up to reasonable standards.

Yet lurking on top of the persistent threat of neglect is also the risk that those paid to provide care will intentionally abuse their position for financial gain. Trust is at the center of the resident-nursing home relationship. That is why stories like one coming out of Champaign are maddening–a reminder that all those involved in nursing home care administration, if they choose, can cause serious damage to those who count of them.

Systematic Senior Financial Exploitation

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ElderCare Locator recently put out a helpful new guide that delves into an issue that the attorneys at our firm often discuss: senior financial exploitation. This issue has been gaining more and more attention over the past few years, which is a welcome change. However, there is still a long way to go before no senior suffers as a result of being swindled or tricked. The first step in making a real dent on the problem is education, as more and more community members should understand the warning signs and know what to do when exploitation is identified.

That is what the new guide comes is. You can download your own copy of the brief brochure here.

Not a Minor Problem

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$2.9 billion. That is how much senior Americans lose each and every year to various scams, according to MetLife’s Mature Market Institute. These scams take many different forms, from fake charity donations and false lottery winnings to unnecessary home repairs and outright theft from bank accounts. All those who care about protecting the health, well-being, and finances of local seniors should take the time to talk to loved ones about these issues.

However, it is often very difficult to have conversations with aging parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, or elderly friends. That is because many seniors are understandably sensitive about their ability to handle their own affairs. After all, they likely spent a lifetime taking care of themselves through the good times and the bad, and it may come off as insensitive to suggest that their mental capacity has deteriorated in any way. The challenge of many of these conversations is one reason why many local residents may put off ensuring their loved ones financial security until it is too late.

This is a mistake. While there may be no way to completely get around some of the challenges of these conversations, they are mandatory nonetheless. In fact, new research into the causes of senior financial exploitation might actually make these conversations a bit more tolerable. That is because brain researchers are finding that susceptibility to scams is not necessarily related to mental capacity but changes in the way the brain operates in old age.

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Any time is a good time to talk with the senior loved ones in your life about the possibility of senior fraud. As we have frequently discussed here, the theft of money and property from senior citizens remains an incredibly robust problem, affecting far more people than most suspect. The swindling takes many froms, from unfairly convincing seniors to give away money unnecessarily to outright theft. In virtually all cases it is criminal, but it is very difficult to identify every time that it occurs. That is why most observers continue to suggest that proactive steps need to be taken by family and friends to both guard against the financial mistreatment and identify when it has occurred.

A new story from Forbes suggests that holiday gatherings might prove a good time to address these issues. Over the next few weeks, many families will get together in various ways to commemorate the season. For that reason, it is an ideal time to careully broach the topic. Of course, bringing up questions related to senior finances and possible abuse is more of an art than a science. Asking “Have you had money taken from you unfairly in recent months?” is not likely to go over well. Instead, it is best to simply slowly ask about any recent financial opportunties or similar tangential issue that might hint at possible exploitation.

This same call is being made from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Assistant Secretary for Aging in the department recently issued a similar refrain declaring that, “this holiday season, we encourage families to spend some time asking older family members some basic questions to ensure that their finances are in good hands and that if there are signs of abuse, that the right steps are taken to stop it.”

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RGJ News reported this week on another sad example of elder financial exploitation. In this case, a 59-year old healthcare worker at the Veteran Affair’s Sierra Nevada Hospital took advantage of a senior patient of the facility.

The scamming worker befriended the elderly man while assisting with his nursing needs. After the victim left the hospital the woman continued to communicate with the man, occasionally doing household chores for him. Eventually she used her influence to gain access to his bank accounts. Once she had that ability it was free reign to exploit his finances for personal gain.

All told she forged checks and withdrew money from ATMs, taking over $83,000 of the victim’s savings. She also used his debit cards to buy personal items. The thief was not apprehended until earlier this week, over 6 months after the victim’s death. She is accused of various frauds centering on her elderly financial exploitation.
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Our Chicago nursing home lawyers at Levin & Perconti spend much of our time working for victims of negligent and abusive nursing home treatment. Many seniors in nursing homes struggle every day because the care provided leaves them open to sickness, injury, and attack.

However, those seniors who remain out of nursing homes and living on their own have other vulnerabilities which are often exploited by the unscrupulous. WISTV reported on a new senior scam that is targeted at the elderly involving health care. Making decisions about Medicare coverage is an inherently tricky but important process for all seniors. Unfortunately it now also involves the risk of falling victim to a scam related to that coverage.

Reports are coming in involving scammers who are contacting elderly Americans and pretending to be Medicare employees. The callers are then asking the senior for personal and financial information related to the Medicare Part “D” prescription drug plan. When that information is given out, the scam artist can then use it to exploit the victim’s finances.

One state official explains that, “There are going to be people that give out information and have their identities used in a very inappropriate way and lose financial means over it.”
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Our Chicago nursing home lawyers at Levin & Perconti most commonly work with victims and their families following deadly medical complications or injuries that a nursing home resident suffers following abuse and neglect by the facility. However, while that might be the most common form of elder neglect that actually makes it to the courtroom, there may be other forms of abuse that occur just as frequently (if not more). One such problem is the misuse, exploitation, and downright theft of elderly financial resources.

For example, WSLS 2 News reported last week on a tragic example of financial exploitation by a former social worker. The 36-year-old abuser had spent time working for several different elderly patients. One of those patients, an 89-year old woman, ultimately had her bank account drained of almost $25,000 during a ten month period in 2009. Shortly after, the worker then used her role to take more nearly $9,000 from another elderly resident in her care. Authorities believe that the criminal used the funds for a variety of personal items like cloths and groceries.

In another care the same social worker abused her position as caregiver for a dementia patient. She wrote checks to herself without the patient’s consent and used the victim’s ATM card. The worker even went so far as lying to bank authorities to acquire new checks for the woman and then using those checks for personal items.

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A troubling news story from the San Mateo Daily Journal discusses another example of financial elder abuse.

A bank teller in Redwood City is charged with felony fiscal elder abuse after she stole more $40,000 from her own aunt. While working as a teller, Arcelia Barajas Aguilar had close access to the funds of the bank customers. She was able to transfer money from one customer’s account to another. Early last month, Aguilar apparently transferred $40,000 from her aunt’s account into her own personal account.

Aguilar apparently used the money to pay down her credit card debt. Fortunately, the fraud was discovered during a bank audit. Aguilar was arrested and is now on bail. It is unclear how much money remains of the total that she stole. The judge warned the Aguilar’s sentence could ultimately be affected by the amount of restitution she is able to make-how much money she can pay back.