Articles Posted in Financial Exploitation

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CBS Chicago reports that Bridget Pollard, a 76 year old Rogers Park woman suffering from bipolar disorder and dementia was convinced to send a check for $340,000 to Grace Cathedral, a mega church run by televangelist Reverend Ernest Angley in Akron, Ohio. The church preached that those who gave generously would guarantee their entry to heaven.

Mrs. Pollard’s husband died in 2015 and with no children to look after her, she lived alone and was able to easily remove $340,000 from her late husband’s pension. Mrs. Pollard is reported to have repeatedly refused care by others, but after her insistent niece paid her a visit, she discovered her aunt living without heat, water, or electricity, and amongst old garbage and 44 stray cats. Her niece also discovered her aunt’s emptied bank account and instantly realized she had been taken advantage of by the mega church. After reporting the incident, Mrs. Pollard is now under The Cook County Public Guardian, who has taken the lead on pursing a lawsuit against the church in order to recover all of the $340,000 she was conned into donating.

Although Mrs. Pollard had only been to Grace Cathedral several times, she kept in touch with Corliss Whitney, a singer from the church who became her power of attorney and also attempted to become her legal guardian. According to the Cook County Public Guardian, given the lack of contact between the two, Ms. Whitney took advantage of Bridget Pollard as part of a scheme to take money from the elderly. It is believed that Ms. Whitney had never attempted to look after Mrs. Pollard’s health or well-being, or remove her from the dire situation inside her home.

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In discussing nursing home abuse or neglect, or more general abuse and neglect of elders, a sometimes overlooked form of abuse is financial exploitation.
Those close to the elderly and incapacitated, be it loved ones, friends, in-home caretakers, and staff at nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Financial exploitation can be anything. It can be the stealing of credit cards or ATM/debit cards, and it can be stealing identification and routing numbers for bank accounts or investment accounts. It can also simply be swiping cash or taking tangible items, like jewelry, out of a person’s wallet, purse or from their room. Identity theft often accompanies such financial exploitation, whereby someone uses a vulnerably elderly or disabled person’s identity to make financial transactions. In nursing homes specifically, staffers or administrators take advantage of individual patients, but also will take advantage of their position to generally defraud the facility where they work, and by association its patients as well as the government if the facility receives funding through Medicare, Medicaid or other channels.

Those committing such acts invite not just losing their jobs, but very serious criminal prosecution on the basis of multiple charges. Financial exploitation of anyone, such as theft of property or money, identity theft, it itself a crime, and in many states statutes that specifically deal with preying on the elderly or disabled will only serve to augment the charges and the possible sentence. Restitution, or paying the victim back, is only the start of the penalties, as there can be jail time as well.
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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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In the fight against elder abuse in the nursing home, we frequently point out that friends and family members are the front line of defense. Many seniors are unable to communicate their challenges, unfamiliar with their exact rights, and/or embarrassed about their situation. That is why relatives are needed to stand up and demand accountability when they suspect problems. It’s the very reason why this year’s theme for Residents’ RIghts Month is “Speak Out Against Elder Abuse.”

The challenge of identifying mistreatment does not exist only in the nursing home. In fact, the problem may be even more acute outside these facilities, when seniors live alone and may have less day-to-day oversight from trusted loved ones. One of the most common forms of elder mistreatment among seniors living on their own is financial exploitation.

Far too many individuals–from strangers to friends and relatives–are willing to use the senior’s situation for their own gain. The mistreatment can take the form of scams or forced agreements to outright theft. In all cases, it is illegal and wreaks severe havoc on the life of the vulnerable community member.

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In honor of Resident’s Rights Month it is worth emphasizing the scope of mistreatment that affects seniors. Of course, attorneys at our firm work every day on behalf of nursing home residents who are hurt in falls, develop bed sores, and harmed in a myriad of other common ways. The root of all of this harm is vulnerability and the exploitation by those in positions of power or influence.

Of course taking advantage of elderly individuals is not perpetrated only by those working in the long-term care field. The exploitation can affect anyone, making it critical for trusted friends and family members to remain vigilant about the many ways that seniors can be mistreated and abused.

Tour Bus Scam

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Abuse. Neglect. Exploitation. When first hearing these words your mind might immediately jump to seniors who are physically hurt. In the nursing home, that usually means broken bones suffered in a fall, complications from bed sores, and a thousand other possible harms. Seniors have frail bodies and are often in poor health, and so even minimal maltreatment can be a matter of life and death.

But it is important not to focus entirely on physical harm. Seniors can be taken advantage of in many other ways that don’t necessarily result in outward scars. The damage may affect their bank accounts.

Financial exploitation of the elderly remains a mammoth problem. Chances are that almost everyone knows of a senior who has been hurt in this way–though much of the financial exploitation goes unreported.

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Financial abuse is perhaps the most common form of mistreatment affecting seniors. Sadly, many people are willing to act inappropriately when money is on the line, and the elderly often make ripe targets. They frequently have access to sizeable funds–usually for their retirement–and may have cognitive challenges–like dementia–which can be exploited.

The financial abuse comes in different forms. At times they involve crimes of convenience. That refers to situations where wrongdoers–often caregivers, friends, or family members–decide to take finances once they are presented with the opportunity. For example, a relative may be given access to the senior’s checkbook to help pay bills. Once they obtain it, though, they may begin writing checks fraudulently. This is different than intentional scams, where individuals specifically interact with the senior with the underlying purpose of bilking them out of money. Both forms of mistreatment are crimes, and both need to be guarded against.

A recent Financial Adviser article helpful provided some examples of situations where advisors identified suspicious activity involving a senior client. The stories are heartbreaking. For example, in one case a “friend” moved into the home a senior who lived alone. The elderly woman was recently widowed. The friend gained access to the seniors funds and began taking weekly trips to the casino using her money. Eventually the woman’s entire retirement account was virtually drained.

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One of the more trusted names in community affairs and consumer rights issues recently published a helpful article that tackles an matter which should matter to all of us: elder financial abuse. Financial abuse of seniors often goes hand-in-hand with physical abuse or neglect. In all cases, however, the consequences for the elderly resident are severe. It often means the difference between living one’s golden years in happiness and spending them struggling to get by.

In addition, lack of access to appropriate resources following theft often has ripple effects on a senior’s health. While access to quality support services should not hinge on who is rich and who is poor–the sad reality is that finances very much do play a role in access to quality services. Whether or not one is able to afford at-home care services (like nurses) is affected by the senior’s finances. Similarly, the availability of certain long-term care facilities may be determined by money. Some homes do not accept Medicaid participants.

Long story short: everyone is well served by playing a role in eliminating senior financial abuse.

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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.”