According to Kiplinger’s, elder financial abuse has been named the “crime of the 21st century,” and according to a new study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, as many as twenty percent of America’s elderly population may be victims. However, new efforts by attorneys are being made to train people in this profession to spot and report potential elder financial abuse and fraud.
The Elder Investment Fraud and Financial Exploitation prevention program (EIFFE) was launched by a joint effort between the American Bar Association (ABA), nonprofit Investor Protection Trust, and its sister organization the Investor Protection Institute. The goal of EIFFE is to curb the increasing levels of elder financial abuse and exploitation by teaching attorneys how to spot the warning signs.
The program is focused on attorneys because they are helping seniors with estate planning, wills, powers of attorney, and other legal documents and are in a position to spot a person at risk of financial exploitation. The program so far has been met with enthusiasm, and ninety percent of the attorneys surveyed by the groups before launching the program said that they would be willing to participate as part of a continuing education program that is about “detecting preventing and redressing elder investment fraud and financial exploitation.”
How the Initiative Works
The program is set up as an option for continuing legal education for attorneys. Lawyers will be taught how to recognize a client’s possible vulnerability due to mild cognitive impairment or incipient dementia in addition to identify clients who are victims and report suspected instances of elder fraud and exploitation to authorities. This initiative complements the interactive, online curriculum just launched by the Department of Justice to teach attorneys how to identify and respond to all kinds of elder abuse.
The Importance of the EIFFE
Lawyers need help detecting signs of potential elder fraud problems; however, spotting, preventing and responding to financial exploitation is not an area where many attorneys are effectively trained. Roughly one-third of elderly Americans over the age of 71 have some kind of cognitive impairment, and that number is expected to rise. This type of impairment makes people more likely to make financial errors or be less able to evaluate potential financial risk.
According to the New York State Elder Abuse Prevalence Study, for every case of elder exploitation reported, as many as 44 other cases go unnoticed. In addition, the survey by EIFFE organizations found that 91% of attorneys find elder investment fraud and financial exploitation a serious problem, and as many as 34% said that they believe that they are or may be dealing with such victims on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis.
Attorneys will start taking the EIFFE education course in five states at the end of the year, and the program hopes to spread nationally by next spring. Attorneys that participate in the program are not just helping their elderly clients, but they are protecting themselves, too. Lawyers who fail to detect and report elder financial abuse can become unwitting participants in the exploitation. This opens them up to civil, criminal, and professional penalties for their part in the abuse.