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Stealing Money From Elderly Family Members: How to Prove Your Case

Financial elder abuse can occur in a variety of ways, which range from as simple as outright stealing to as complex as securities fraud. It can also be committed by anyone — even those whom one would least expect, including family members or trusted financial advisors. Theft from the elderly by family members is particularly rampant due to a belief by many perpetrators that it is easy to get away with and that even if they are caught, the victim will not press charges or take other corrective action against their own family member. While proving theft from the elderly by a family member can be difficult, a California financial elder abuse attorney can help you gather the evidence you need to prove your case.

Types of Theft From the Elderly

Financial abuse of the elderly encompasses an extremely wide range of behaviors, with the common denominator being that they all involve the perpetrator enriching themselves at the expense of the elderly victim. Some of the most common types of theft from the elderly include:

  • Theft by larceny: Theft by larceny is the simplest form of theft. It involves the taking and carrying off of another’s property without their permission. A family member could commit larceny by, for example, “borrowing” something belonging to the elder and never returning it.
  • Theft by false pretenses: Theft by false pretenses occurs when the perpetrator makes a false statement or omission of a material fact to gain possession of the victim’s property. For example, a family member could commit this type of theft by sending the elder a phishing email pretending to be the victim’s bank in order to steal their credit card number.
  • Theft by embezzlement: Theft by embezzlement occurs when the perpetrator fraudulently takes property that has been entrusted to them by the victim. In the family setting, this could occur when the victim asks a family member to hold on to a sum of money for them for a period of time, and, unbeknownst to the victim, the family member steals a portion of it.

Theft from the elderly by family members also frequently involves breaches of fiduciary duties. This could occur, for example, where the trustee of a trust for which the elder is a beneficiary misappropriates the trust’s funds for their own personal use. It could also occur when a person with power of attorney steals assets belonging to the elder. These types of cases can be particularly difficult to investigate and litigate; if you are dealing with theft as a result of a breach of fiduciary duty, please consider contacting a California financial elder abuse attorney.

Evidence That Can Be Used to Prove Theft From the Elderly

The best way to prove theft from the elderly by a family member is with strong, direct evidence. Unfortunately, smoking guns are uncommon. Instead, many concerned family members have to rely on a variety of other types of evidence, including statements from the victim and observations of the alleged thief’s behavior.

Some types of evidence that can be used to prove theft from the elderly are outlined below.

Physical Evidence

Physical evidence is real items that relate to the theft. For example, if a family member were accused of stealing the elder victim’s Rolex watch and the same Rolex watch were found in the accused thief’s possession, that would be strong evidence that the family member stole the watch. In most cases of theft from the elderly, however, physical evidence is hard to come by. 

Documentary Evidence

In the absence of physical evidence, most concerned family members rely on documentary evidence to prove theft from the elderly. Documentary evidence is written or recorded material that can be used to show that a theft occurred. It could include:

  • Bank statements: Bank statements could be used to show theft, for example, where a certain amount of money is missing from the victim’s account and the same amount of money appears in the accused thief’s account shortly after it goes missing.
  • Text messages: Text messages are often relevant to prove theft. For example, a text message conversation between the victim and the perpetrator could show that the victim entrusted certain property to the perpetrator before it went missing.
  • Phone calls: Phone calls can be used for similar purposes as text messages; however, unless the phone calls are recorded (which is rare, unless the investigating family member already suspects the perpetrator of theft), they are of little use. Phone records may also be important to show, for example, repeated calls to a bank’s customer service number or automated system for money transfers.
  • Emails: Like text messages, emails also provide strong evidence that a theft has occurred. They are particularly useful in cases of theft by false pretenses, such as when a family member engages in phishing against an elder.
  • Camera footage: Camera footage evidence is among the strongest forms of documentary evidence. It is particularly useful to show theft by larceny (i.e., the physical taking of the victim’s property), but it may be less useful for more sophisticated types of theft.

If you have any of the above types of evidence that you think can be used to prove theft against an elder, please contact a California financial elder abuse attorney who can help you evaluate it.

Circumstantial Evidence

Circumstantial evidence is not direct evidence but evidence that relies on inference to support a conclusion. It can be particularly useful in cases of theft from the elderly by family members, as other family members may be intimately familiar with the accused thief’s habits, movements, and financial situation. For example, assume that a large amount of money goes missing from the elder’s account. Shortly thereafter, a family member who had access to that account goes on an unexpected vacation or buys a new car despite being strapped for cash. Those circumstances could indicate that that family member stole money from the elder.

Let a California Financial Elder Abuse Attorney Evaluate Your Evidence

If you have evidence that you believes indicates financial abuse of an elder by a family member — or need help seeking such evidence — please contact a California financial elder abuse attorney at the Evans Law Firm, Inc., by using our online form or calling us at 415-441-8669 or toll-free at 1-888-50EVANS (888-503-8267).

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