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Elder Abuse: A Look at Caregiver Fraud

Elder abuse caregiver fraud can take many different forms, from caregivers promising to provide care that is not provided, to caregivers falsifying qualifications, to embezzlement or caregivers stealing from vulnerable seniors. Sometimes, this fraud causes physical damage, such as when a caregiver claims to be offering aid to a senior and then neglects his or her basic obligations. Even when abuse is purely financial, however, the emotional ramifications and anxiety that results can do serious harm to a senior’s health.

Our San Mateo County elder abuse lawyers should be consulted in cases of caregiver fraud or abuse. An attorney can help seniors and their families determine if any laws were broken or if actionable negligence occurred that could give rise to a civil claim for damages. Fighting fraud is important not only for the senior affected by the fraud, but also to make sure abusive and untrustworthy caregivers are stopped so they cannot cause additional damage to more seniors.

Problems Associated With Caregiver Fraud

According to the National Council on Aging, losses from elder financial abuse total $2.9 billion every single year.  Seniors lose money when caregivers directly steal from them by taking their possessions or coercing a senior into giving away money or other items.  Seniors with dementia or cognitive issues could be particularly vulnerable to this type of abuse.

Power of attorney abuse is also a substantial problem, as those entrusted with making financial decisions for seniors could misuse their authority to enrich themselves at the expense of the senior. In some cases, seniors are also convinced by caregivers to change their estate plan, creating long-term problems for beneficiaries after the death of the defrauded individual.

Financial fraud perpetrated by caregivers could cost seniors their homes, their financial security, and their health. An inability to cover the costs of medications or medical treatment due to financial loss from fraud can have a direct and immediate impact on an elderly person. Stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental ailments resulting from fraud can also increase the risk of illness or death.

Caregiver fraud can also take other forms, including posing as a qualified doctor or caregiver and providing dangerous medical services that the caregiver is not actually qualified to offer. Seniors may also face physical damage when coerced into getting unneeded medical care for purposes of billing Medicare. Some could even be physically harmed if a caregiver is charging for services not performed, since the senior will not get the care that the fraudster had pretended to offer.

Criminal Penalties for Elder Abuse

Although elder abuse can and should be remedied through a civil action that allows the victim and their family to seek restitution, the state legislature has also enacted criminal penalties, to ensure that abusers are prevented from carrying out misdeeds in the future.

Through Penal Code 368 the legislature of California has declared that crimes against elders and dependent adults are deserving of special consideration and protection.  California Elder Abuse Laws include criminal and private courses of action that protect elders and dependent adults from physical, and/or emotional abuse, neglect, endangerment and financial exploitation.

Who is protected by California Elder Abuse Laws?

California elderly abuse laws protect elders and dependent adults.  As defined in Penal Code Section 368 “Elder” means any person who is 65 years of age or older, and “dependent adult” means any person who is between 18 and 64 years old, who has physical or mental limitations which restrict his or her ability to carry out normal activities or to protect his or her rights.

In simple terms, California elderly abuse laws not only protect the elderly, but also those adults who are not able to care for themselves due to physical or mental disabilities.

Punishable conducts

I. By the Caretaker

  1. The caretaker who willfully causes or permits the person or health of the elder or dependent adult to be injured, or
  2. The caretaker who willfully causes or permits the elder or dependent adult to be placed in a situation in which his or her person or health is endangered
  3. The caretaker who willfully causes or permits the person or health of the elder or dependent adult to be injured
  4. The caretaker who willfully causes or permits the elder or dependent adult to be placed in a situation in which his or her person or health may be endangered

As defined in Penal Code Section 368 “caretaker” means any person who has the care, custody, or control of, or who stands in a position of trust with, an elder or a dependent adult.

Punishable conducts by the caretaker require the element of willfulness; the caretaker must have intended to cause harm.

II. By any person

  1. Any person who knows or reasonably should know that a person is an elder or dependent adult and who, under circumstances or conditions likely to produce great bodily harm or death, willfully causes or permits any elder or dependent adult to suffer, or inflicts thereon unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering.
  2. Any person who knows or reasonably should know that a person is an elder or dependent adult and who, under circumstances or conditions other than those likely to produce great bodily harm or death, willfully causes or permits any elder or dependent adult to suffer, or inflicts thereon unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering.

Penalty

Under Penal Code 368, the prosecutor has the choice of prosecuting the case as a felony or a misdemeanor, taking into account the defendant’s criminal history and the facts of the case.  When the abuse is prosecuted as a misdemeanor, potential penalties may include up to 1 year in county jail and a fine of up to $6,000 dollars, and when it is prosecuted as a felony, the term of the sentence can be increased if the victim suffered bodily harm.

Taking Action Against Fraud

If you or someone you love was defrauded, you need to alert law enforcement in order for police to conduct an investigation into the scams. Contacting the Evans Law Firm, Inc. is also advised, as an attorney can provide assistance in pursuing civil remedies to recover compensation for the losses resulting from the fraud.  You should work with a legal professional as soon as you suspect that any type of elder abuse or fraud has occurred, as your attorney can help you conduct an investigation, prove the abuse and report the problem to the appropriate authorities.

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