The Bellingham Herald discussed an often overlooked but vital matter that is of serious concern to our New York elder law estate planning attorneys: elder financial exploitation. Our work helping local residents avoid the probate process, save taxes, and plan for disability, involves elements of trust and relationship-building. Yet, we understand that there are some criminals who are bent on building up trust with seniors only to use their position of influence for their own gain. These fraudulent actors can be found in various settings, from nursing homes and assisted living facilities to one’s own network of friends and family. All local seniors must remain alert to these dangers.
Prevention is particularly important with elder financial abuse, because after the crime is perpetrated there is often little that authorities can do to correct the harm. The Herald story discussed one senior who lost nearly $775,000 in a scheme in which he thought he was investing money only to learn that it was being stolen. The company in which he invested filed for bankruptcy and as was later described as a mere Ponzi scheme. The man leading the fraudulent enterprise was arrested, but the money taken from the senior victim was gone.
Some advocates are raising concerns about the tools available to authorities to help these victims, making it difficult to protect them before they suffer actual financial harm. For example, at the time the victim described in this story began dealing with the fraudulent investor, that investor was already the target of multiple ethics probes for misappropriation of client funds and had actually been charged with a crime. Yet nothing was done to stop the criminal from swindling others. One advocate explained that this case is far from unique. He noted, “It is a common complaint in fraud cases involving the elderly: prosecutors, social service agencies, and attorney regulators are often slow to act, and by the time they do, the damage is done.” Prosecutorial inexperience handling these cases is part of the problem. In addition, some claim that local police officials are not properly trained to handle these matters.
At the end of the day, area seniors should look into the experience, reputation, and recommendations of all those from who they seek financial counsel, from New York elder law attorneys and accountants to investment advisors. Beyond that, however, prosecutors, caregivers, and other senior advocates must work to create environments where seniors can easily report problems and have their concerns timely attended to. According to new data, authorities are currently only handling one out of every forty six reported cases of elder financial exploitation.
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