Myths and Misconceptions About Financial Elder Abuse
Despite its widespread nature, elder abuse, and in particular financial elder abuse, is often not discussed openly. The reasons for it going unaddressed are many. For some, it is an emotionally painful topic that they would rather avoid. For others, including many of its victims, it is shame-inducing. And for others, it is a reminder of their own eventual mortality. And for still others, it may go unreported because they do not even know it’s happening to them. Regardless of the reasons why, silence around financial exploitation of seniors has led to the creation of certain myths and misconceptions that can result in harm to its victims. Here, our California financial elder abuse attorney sets the record straight on myth vs. fact when it comes to elder abuse.
Myth: Financial Elder Abuse Only Happens in Low-Income Households
Financial elder abuse is in no way limited to low-income households or communities. On the contrary, the wealthier an individual is, the more attractive they are to abusers and the more opportunities there are for abuse. Potential perpetrators of elder abuse may even feel less guilt about theft from wealthy seniors, as they may feel the victim has plenty to spare. Wealthy seniors may also be more vulnerable to more sophisticated forms of financial elder abuse, such as securities and stockbroker fraud, breaches of fiduciary duties by trustees, and power of attorney fraud, among others.
Myth: Financial Elder Abuse Occurs Mostly in Nursing Homes
Nursing homes are indeed fertile ground for the perpetration of all forms of elder abuse, but financial elder abuse is actually more common outside of nursing homes. According to the Department of Justice, over 90% of elder abuse occurs to individuals living outside of nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and other congregate living situations. Anyone who has access to the victim can commit financial elder abuse, including friends, neighbors, in-home caregivers, and family members.
Myth: Financial Elder Abuse Only Happens to People Who Don’t Know How to Manage Their Finances
Financial savviness has little to do with one’s susceptibility to financial elder abuse. It often occurs over the course of many years, making individual instances difficult to detect. Abusers may also intentionally conceal theft by mixing illicit purchases with legitimate purposes. This could occur, for example, when an elderly victim gives a caregiver her credit card to purchase medicine, but the caregiver also makes additional purchases for herself.
Myth: Financial Elder Abuse Only Happens to the Mentally Impaired
A belief that financial elder abuse only happens to the mentally impaired — or individuals who are otherwise unsophisticated — is one of the most pervasive myths concerning financial elder abuse. It is also one of the least true. Financial elder abuse can happen to anyone regardless of their mental capacity or shrewdness. Some forms of elder abuse, such as reverse mortgage fraud and fraudulent investment schemes, are often so complex and ostensibly legitimate that they can ensnare even the sharpest victims. Other forms, like phishing, catfishing, and other internet-based frauds, prey on their victims’ relative ignorance or unfamiliarity with the workings of the Internet to accomplish their ends. The bottom line is that scammers are always devising clever new ways of defrauding their victims, and becoming a victim is easier than anyone (regardless of their age) would like to admit. To learn more about some of the most common frauds and schemes targeting the elderly, please contact a California financial elder abuse lawyer.
Myth: Professionals Don’t Commit Financial Elder Abuse
Professionals, including professional caregivers, stockbrokers and financial advisors, insurance agents, real estate agents, and various others in fiduciary capacities, are bound by codes of conduct and held to a higher standard than the ordinary person. But that does not mean that they are incapable of perpetrating financial elder abuse. On the contrary, financial elder abuse committed by professionals can be among the most financially devastating to its victims. Not only can they misappropriate large sums of money, they can do so under a veneer of professional expertise, thereby minimizing suspicion and avoiding detection.
Myth: Financial Elder Abuse Only Involves Small Amounts of Money
It is not true that financial elder abuse only involves small amounts of money. And even if it were, it could still cause harm to its victims because many seniors live on fixed incomes that leave little room for error. The National Council on Aging estimates that financial elder abuse costs Americans anywhere from $2.6 to $36.5 billion every year. While each individual incident may be “small” in the grand scheme of things, they add up to major financial losses.
Myth: There is No Specific Legal Penalty for Financial Elder Abuse
It’s true that many of the acts that constitute elder abuse are covered by generally applicable laws prohibiting theft, fraud, embezzlement, and misappropriation. However in California, there are laws that provide for additional civil and criminal penalties specifically for financial elder abuse. Those laws include:
- Civil Code § 3345: Increased civil penalties in actions brought by or on behalf of senior citizens where the actions involve unfair or deceptive acts or practices or unfair methods of competition
- Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act § 15657.5: Increased civil penalties, including awards of reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs, where in the senior is a victim of financial elder abuse
- Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act § 15630: Criminal penalties for failure of mandated reporters to report known or reasonably suspected financial elder abuse
- Penal Code §§ 368(d) and 368(e): Criminal penalties for financial abuse of elders and dependent adults, including fines of up to $10,000 and imprisonment for up to four years.
Get the Facts on Elder Abuse From a San Francisco Financial Elder Abuse Attorney
Financial elder abuse can take many forms, and it is often not what it appears to be on the surface. If you suspect that someone you care about is the victim of financial elder abuse, an experienced attorney can help you investigate and put a stop to it. To get started, please contact a San Francisco financial elder abuse lawyer at the Evans Law Firm, Inc., by using our online contact form or calling 415-441-8669 or toll-free at 1-888-50EVANS (888-503-8267).