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Our Culture of Financial Exploitation: How to Identify, Report and Prevent Abuse

Identify, Report and Prevent Financial Exploitation

Today’s elders are bombarded by scams from all angles: in person by door-to door sales, telemarketers by phone, scam lotteries and sweepstakes by mail, phishing scams by internet, and by family members and acquaintances who prey on the generosity and vulnerability of an aging individual.

Due to confusion and unfamiliarity with these crimes and scams, victims and families fail to identify and report the majority of financial abuse and exploitation. Elder exploitation is not a civil matter. Idaho code §18-1505 criminalizes financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult where: (1) someone unjustly or improperly uses a victim’s property for profit or advantage; and (2) the victim is a “vulnerable adult” -meaning the victim has a physical or mental impairment affecting judgment and capacity. Idaho’s theft law (Idaho Code 18-2403) also criminalizes wrongfully taking or withholding an elder’s property by trick, deception, or false promise.

For example, when a door-to-door salesperson exploits the capacity of a customer/victim to make a sale, or unnecessarily convinces an elderly person to purchase a new water heater, furnace, windows, etc.; or where a handy-man takes prepayment for work without the intent of completing a job, or simply refuses to follow up, there has been a crime committed worthy of report to law enforcement. Failing to report these abuses perpetuates the problem and emboldens the criminals.

How do you report it? First: Call your city law enforcement. Many agencies have dedicated specialists who recognize, investigate, and prosecute exploitation. You must convince them that this is not a simple case of buyer’s remorse or a civil dispute. Using these words, explain to them the exploitation targeted special, vulnerable victims with a diminished capacity and specific impairments (Alzheimers, dementia, etc). A financial crime has been committed. Second: Be persistent. Keep calling until you speak with a detective familiar with investigating exploitation. Follow up with the investigation. If the case is important to you, it will be important to law enforcement. Third: Ensure a criminal report is generated and routed to the prosecuting agency for review. Sometimes it takes a specialized prosecuting attorney to identify and charge elder exploitation.

What else can you do to protect yourself? There are several proactive measures, from building a trusted network of family and trusted friends, to talking with a knowledgeable attorney about Powers of Attorney, Trusts, Wills, and the type of individuals who should be appointed to trusted positions in each document. These appointments are not honorary, nor a matter of birth-right to the first born child. Rather, candidates are to be thoughtful, trusted individuals, unlikely to take advantage and selfless in their decisions. It may be necessary to use the services of professionals for these appointments.

The constant stream of attempts at the financial exploitation of elders must be combated. By creating a culture where we recognize, report, and work with professionals to plan for the inevitable barrage of attempted exploitation, we can dissuade and prosecute those who would take advantage of the most vulnerable members of society.