It is a sad fact that most people who financially exploit the elderly get away with it. They often find it so easy that they do it time and time again. Each time the Exploiter becomes more and more bold. They act as though they are entitled to this money and no one else deserves it. This is why they must be prosecuted. There will be another victim.
Prosecuting these crimes is difficult for the State Attorney because of how it is done. In my career as a Professional Geriatric Care Manager in South Florida I have noticed a definite step-by-step process, almost a formula, that these Exploiters use to separate elders from their life savings. In many cases the Exploiter actually gets permission from the elder to take their money. Because of this, it can be argued that the elder “allowed” their assets to be taken and therefore, no crime took place. Furthermore, to argue that an elder was easily influenced by the Exploiter is to imply that the elder is incompetent and perhaps should not be in control of any of their finances. Few elders want to admit that. Instead they justify the theft or even cover it up. Once the elder realizes that they have been victimized, they may feel responsible, guilty or embarrassed. Few will testify against the one who stole from them.
When we think of someone who steals from the elderly, we conjure an image of the stranger lurking around the ATM machine or scam artist selling bogus products. Since Investment Broker, Bernard Madoff “made off’ with his client’s millions, we have all become familiar with the term “ponzi scheme”. But this type of financial exploitation is rare compared to the financial exploitation elder care professionals see every day which is perpetrated by an elderly person’s friends, family and caregivers. In cases I have worked I have seen that THIS type of exploitation achieved slowly, purposely and in FIVE PREDICTABLE STEPS. It is often done so artfully, that the elder and others around them see it happening but cannot believe it is true. They ignore all the small telltales signs. When the situation finally explodes, the FIVE STEPS are then seen as clear as day. By then it may be too late to do anything about it.
Here are the STEPs. Learn to recognize them and you may prevent this horrible crime from happening to yourself or someone you care about.
STEP ONE: The Exploiter comes to the rescue – they become a caregiver or helpmate when the person suffers a crisis. They may do extra favors for the elder without pay and refuse to take payment even when offered…at first. The Exploiter will later remind the elder of the favors and cause them to feel indebted to them.
STEP TWO: The Exploiter convinces the elder that they are the only one who cares about their welfare. The elder is brainwashed to believe that the true family only wants their money.
STEP THREE: The Exploiter separates the elder emotionally and physically from their family. They bring in their own family to be the “replacement family”. Next they tell the elder they are like family to them. May may even start to call the elder ” Mom” or “Dad”. They may deny the true family access to calling or visiting the elder and cause others in the community to regard the true family as exploiters. The elder may never know about all the family’s attempts to reach them.
STEP FOUR: The Exploiter gets permission to use the elder’s credit card, ATM card or other money for a small purchase. Then they continue to use the elder’s assets and transfer assets little by little to their own account or distribute assets among the Exploiter’s family members. The Exploiter may shop for the elder but purchase items for themselves as well. They may take the elder out to dinner but also invite their whole family and have the elder pay for it. When the Exploiter’s car needs repair or gas, the elder is asked to pay for since that car is used to shop or transport the elder. The elder will feel they have no choice but to agree.
STEP FIVE: Finally, the Exploiter will attempt to take legal control over the person. They may become Power of Attorney, change the Will to disinherit the family and bequeath assets to them self and or their family. A few years ago, I had a case where an attorney changed the Will of a confused dying woman to give her home and assets to an aide whom she had only known for two years. This was especially heinous because that lawyer had previously written the Will for the family and knew that the heirs existed. This family fought the caregiver in court and had to settle for about one tenth of their original estate. I testified against the the attorney and he has tried to retaliate against me several times since. A few weeks ago I testified in a case where a caregiver in her forties married a ninety- four year old man. She was previously his maid for about two years. She had a notary perform the ceremony in their living room while her children served as witnesses. This act automatically disinherited the elderly man’s entire family. The marriage was challenged and annulled. The elderly man was deemed incompetent by a court of law and assigned a guardian of his assets.
The secret weapon these perpetrators use is LOVE, ATTENTION, FAMILY- LIKE CONNECTION and even SEX…all the things human beings need but may not get once they are aged. In South Florida, many seniors retire to this area only to find themselves thousands of miles from their original family when they need them the most. This isolation creates a dangerous opportunity for exploiters.
If someone you love has a person in their life, be it friend, family, caregiver, or even a trusted professional and you feel they are taking over that person’s finances, lifestyle and even thought processes, get professional help! Contact a professional such as a Geriatric Care Manager or an Elder Law attorney and make sure someone contacts Adult Protective Services. The reality is that the police and State Attorney’s office will need you to practically build the case for them in order for them to prosecute. The evidence may need to be gathered secretly in order not to cause the Exploiter to quickly move to STEP FIVE. Most importantly, take action immediately. Know that the elder will feel you are meddling and taking over. They will not thank you for this because they have already been convinced that the Exploiter has somehow earned their loyalty and their money. Act anyway because it is the right thing to do.