Category Archives: Financial Exploitation

Introduction – Financial Abuse of the Elderly


book-financial-abuse-of-elderlyWhile the number of violent crimes in the U.S. is decreasing, financial crimes against the elderly are increasing as a result of the aging of the population and greater concentration of wealth among older people. According to a 2005 Senior Forum Report by the White House Conference On Aging, only one in 100 cases of financial abuse is reported, and there are millions of financial abuse victims each year. The money is certainly there for the taking: persons over 50 control at least 70% of the nation’s household net worth. 75% of victims of financial abuse are between the ages of 70 and 89. The majority are female, frail and mentally impaired.

The Senior Forum Report pointed to a lack of knowledge regarding scams and the inability of seniors to recognize scams and make sure their financial matters are in order. But victims who are “frail and mentally impaired” simply cannot protect themselves. It is up to the rest of us—family members, neighbors, friends, and those of us who come into contact with the elderly in our work, whether as bank tellers, attorneys, health care professionals, or service providers of any kind, to help them protect themselves. Armed with knowledge, we can take steps in advance to prevent ourselves from becoming victims when we become old and infirm.

Fraud vs. Exploitation

financial-exploitationSince 1990 I have investigated more than 1,000 cases of exploitation of the elderly during my former career as a detective with the Fort Lauderdale Police Department. During this time I’ve realized that reports that address financial crimes against the elderly usually conflate two types of crimes, fraud and exploitation. Fraud is based on deception, but exploitation of the elderly is a much subtler and much more often ignored crime. Justice Potter Stewart’s famous definition of pornography applies equally to exploitation crimes: I may not be able to define it precisely but I know it when I see it.

Definitions of fraud found in dictionaries, or state and federal laws, are essentially based on deception. When referring to the theft of physical property, fraud is basically defined as the false and deceptive statement of fact intended to induce another person to give up a valuable item he or she owns. Scams, confidence games, rackets, hoaxes and shakedowns are common terms used to describe misrepresentations and trickery used by con men or women to entice their target into making bad decisions.

“Choice” is involved with fraud and there is an assumption in state laws throughout the nation that fraud victims have the capacity to weigh information and make decisions based on that information. But what if the victim does not have capacity?

That’s when the crime may actually be exploitation rather than fraud. The dictionary defines exploitation as selfish or unfair use of someone or something for one’s own advantage, taking advantage of another person in an organized or systematic way. My own state, Florida, defines an exploitation victim as “a person 60 years of age or older who is suffering from the infirmities of aging as manifested by advanced age or organic brain damage, or other physical, mental, or emotional dysfunctioning, to the extent that the ability of the person to provide adequately for the person’s own care or protection is impaired.” An exploitation crime occurs when someone takes advantage of the vulnerability or dependant condition of a disabled elderly person to deprive that person of their assets. So while elderly fraud victims are independent persons with the capacity to give consent, exploitation victims are disabled in some manner and this disability contributes to their victimization.

Exploitation victims came from all walks of life and every socioeconomic group. The perpetrators often turned out to be those we would least expect: neighbors, spiritual leaders, nurses, guardians, even the mailman or plumber on occasion.
I have written this book by drawing on my first-hand experience that presents a group of interesting cases that illustrate the nature of exploitation crimes. These cases are “the real thing,” based on facts. I explain how to recognize and prevent victimization through better understanding and by implementing simple safeguards. Each chapter presents a case from my files that provide analysis of why the elderly person was victimized.

Exploiters are usually very successful criminals and crimes that succeed soon become epidemic. My goal here is simple. I want independent senior citizens to protect themselves, and the average “Joe” to be able to protect an older loved one. One day we will all be in the same boat and by taking action now we protect ourselves for the future.

AARP – 7 Common Snowbird Scams

The following article 7 Common Snowbird Scams, Con Artists Head South to Prey on Older Seasonal Residents, is from AARP, written by Sid Kirscheimer, dated November 14, 2012.   For convenience, it is posted below.  To see the original article, click here.

AARP ARTICLE – 7 Common Snowbird Scams

Elder Scam Warning SignIt’s not just retirees who flock to warm-weather states such as Florida and Arizona as the temperature drops up north. During snowbird season — November through April — scammers also head south to prey on the half-year residents.

“Absolutely, during snowbird season there’s an increase in scams — and many are done by organized outfits … who specifically target older seasonal residents,” says Joe Roubicek, who spent 20 years investigating scams as a Fort Lauderdale police detective before writing Financial Abuse of the Elderly: A Detective’s Case Files of Exploitation Crimes.

Be on the lookout for scammers who follow Snowbirds to warmer areas in the winters. For Scam Alert.  Be on the lookout for scammers who follow snowbirds to warmer areas in the winter. — Thomas Collins/Getty Images

If you’re among the thousands about to migrate to a warmer climate, beware of these common snowbird scams:

1. The malevolent mechanic. They wait outside shopping malls or supermarkets, watching for snowbirds (often recognized by out-of-state license plates) to park and go inside. If the car’s older or left unlocked, they can pop the hood and disable the vehicle by pulling wires. “When the elder returns, they offer help getting their car started — after driving them to the bank for money to pay for the repair,” says Roubicek. “Their main target: women in their 70s or 80s.”  Your best option, if you’re not a AAA member, is to call a friend or police to give you a hand.

2. Pickpockets. Organized gangs work flea markets and the aisles of stores near retirement communities for a week or so, then move to the next community, says Bob Arno, a former pickpocket-turned-comedic counselor on street crimes. Snowbirds are especially targeted because they tend to carry cash, wear looser-fitting clothing and may have slower reactions.

If you’re in a crowd or you see strangers ahead, keep your hand on your wallet or tightly clutch your handbag. Be especially careful when approached by “lost” duos in need of directions. (One distracts you — sometimes with map in hand — while the other dips into your bag.) If possible, keep wallets in a buttoned pocket or in a safety pouch worn beneath clothing.

3. ID theft. Roubicek warns of store clerks who capture credit card numbers with cellphone cameras or pen and paper and then make fraudulent purchases. It’s a good idea to use only one card — with the lowest credit limit — for snowbird season purchases and go online regularly to keep close tabs on its activity.

4. The bank examiner scam. Milling around outside banks, con artists pose as bank officials or law enforcement agents who are investigating a corrupt teller. They ask you, as a trusted customer, to go inside, withdraw some money and hand it over. Don’t worry, we just need to check serial numbers and mark the banknotes, you’re told — we’ll redeposit them right away to see if the teller steals any. Of course, they and the cash quickly disappear. Real banking examiners and police don’t need your money for their investigations.

Speak Out!  Run into a scam not mentioned here? Have additional tips other readers could use? Speak out on our Scams & Fraud message board.

5. The lottery winner who can’t collect. In a parking lot, someone approaches you claiming to hold a winning lottery ticket. Only problem, the “winner” is in the United States illegally and can’t go get the money. Just pay me a portion of the jackpot, you’re told, and you can have the ticket. Its number may be “verified” by a passerby — “I saw it announced on TV last night.” In reality, this person is an accomplice.

It’s one of many so-called pigeon drop scams, in which a stranger offers to share a fortune (found money, an inheritance, etc.) once you make your “good faith” contribution. Forget good faith; use good judgment instead.

6. The condo caper. Unannounced visits by self-described utility workers or contractors should always sound internal alarms of a possible scam. But a request to enter your home can have more credence when the front-door fraudster claims “the condo association sent me.”

The crooks often work in pairs and also pose as exterminators. One may “accidentally” spill liquid or even spray pesticide on you and divert your attention by helping with the cleanup while the other stealthily steals valuables.

“If there’s one guy, the ‘accident’ can be to lubricate your hand so he can slip a ring off your finger — or offers to clean it for you,” notes Roubicek. “Some then just pocket the jewelry and run off, knowing that many elders are timid and won’t stop them.”

So unless you initiate contact or the condo association gives prior notice, never let these folks inside your dwelling.

7. Telemarketing cons. Snowbirds can expect an uptick in phony phone calls claiming that they’ve won a sweepstakes or that a grandchild is in a jam and needs a quick wiring of cash. Why? “The energy of boiler rooms moves to snowbird communities” in the winter, says Roubicek, as scammers buy calling lists of communities that are swelled by thousands of seasonal residents. If you own a condo or second home, it’s easy to get personal info such as your name and age, information that’s dropped into the come-on to make it seem more legitimate.

Just hang up!

Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling.

Also of interest:

10 bad spending habits you should break.
The worst-rated states for retirement.
Are you worried about your credit rating?
Remember to go to the AARP home page every day for great deals and for tips on keeping healthy and sharp.