How Seniors Are Financially Exploited By Care Givers In Five Easy Steps

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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. Exploiters will do what they do best until they are stopped. This is why they must be prosecuted once they are caught.

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 Exploiters use to separate elders from their life savings. In many cases the Exploiter actually gets permission from the senior to take their money. Because of this, it can be argued that the senior “allowed” their assets to be taken and therefore, no crime took place. Furthermore, to argue that a senior citizen was easily influenced by the Exploiter is to imply that the senior is incompetent and perhaps should not be in control of any of their finances. Few seniors want to admit that. Instead they justify the theft or even cover it up. Once the senior realizes that they have been victimized, they may feel responsible, guilty or embarrassed. Few will testify against the one who stole from them. Some seniors are afraid of retribution from the Exploiter.

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, purposefully and in FIVE PREDICTABLE STEPS. The Exploitation is executed so artfully, that the elder and others around them see it happening but cannot believe it is true. They ignore all the small tell-tale signs. When the situation finally explodes, the FIVE STEPS then become obvious. 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 about whom you care.

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 or does not visit often enough.

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. The Exploiter 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 of the family member’s attempts to reach them by phone, mail or even in person.

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 offered to testify against the attorney during the settlement phase and he has tried to retaliate against me several times since. In another case, 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 incapacitated by a court of law and assigned a court appointed legal guardian of his assets.

The secret weapon these perpetrators use is LOVE, ATTENTION, FAMILY- LIKE CONNECTION, LOYALTY 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 you have an elderly family member or client who has a person in their life, who you feel are over-taking that elder’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 someone 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. If you need assistance for an elder in South Florida call me toll free at V.I.P. Care Management, Inc.