Saturday, June 17, 2006

Protecting Elderly Loved One From Fraud

Each year, thousands of elderly people forfeit their money and property to scams. By striking fast, swindlers get in, grab the goods and get out before family members realize what's happening.
Elder law attorney Deb Speyer of Philadelphia says elder fraud is a major industry in America. "In most societies, the elderly are cherished, and here you have a small group of people who take advantage of them," she says. "Elder fraud is a billion-dollar business and growing every year."  -- Carol Moore
As frequent readers of this blog know this is an issue that is near and dear to my heart.   I can personally attest to the fact that trying to unravel the chaos after an elderly parent or loved one has been scammed or taken advantage of is a nightmare.   
Be particularly mindful of the following: 
  • Mortgage lenders that try to get the elderly to refinance their homes.  Encouraging a 69 year old to take a 30-year second mortgage is unscrupulous
  • Lenders that offer "too good to be true"  debt consolidation loans.
  • Contractors who request large advance deposits on home repairs
  • Workmen in the home that have access to cherished posessions.
  • Family members that always cry broke. 
  • Family members and/or neighbors that may have keys to an elderly person's home.
  • Telephone solicitors.  They are annoying to start with but the scammers will often call elderly targets extremely early in the morning or late in the evening when the elderly person is drowsy and off guard.  It is wise to make sure that your loved one's telephone number is on the National Do Not Call Registry.
So please, if you have elderly loved ones in your life read this article in its entirety and stay vigilant.  
Be alert to scams targeting the elderly

A charmed life gone awry

At the age of 82, Irene Silverman's life was as rich as the fabrics that decorated her swanky Upper East Side New York mansion. Although she didn't need the money, Silverman divided her five-story home into minisuites to rent by the week. The rentals provided company and diversion. Silverman didn't like to be alone.

Her guests paid $6,000 per week to stay in the posh surroundings. Only the well-heeled and famous could afford it, and that made it safe. Or so she thought.

Everything changed when a mother-son team, Sante and Kenneth Kimes, showed up at Silverman's door. The professional con artists devised a simple plan to take control of the elderly woman's property: They'd kill Silverman, hide the body and present forged documents giving them possession of her home and other assets.

On July 5, 1998, Irene Silverman's life ended with a bullet. Eventually the Kimes were caught, tried and sentenced in connection with the case. But for Silverman's family and friends, revenge served cold provided little comfort.

Although Silverman's tragic fate isn't common, her case serves as an extreme example of what can happen when a vulnerable older person's path crosses that of someone bent on cheating her.

Total immersion

Speyer outlines a scenario she's seen way too many times: After gaining the confidence of an older person, opportunists take advantage of their relationship. They borrow money, talk the person into changing his or her will, run up credit card debt and/or liquidate assets. Many times, Speyer says, the victim is too embarrassed to tell his or her children.

"They often try to isolate (the elder) from friends and family members," Speyer says. Many times the scammer won't even let the victim answer the phone.

She says one client was ripped off after an individual insinuated himself into the woman's trust, then turned her against her own children. The swindler told the elderly lady her kids would put her in a nursing home, then offered to handle her affairs, promising to take care of her.

Money can be a powerful motivator, even within families. Cases like that of a Georgia retiree whose grown daughter stole his life's savings are not uncommon. The man obtained a civil judgment against his daughter, but hasn't collected. He lives on a small Social Security check. As for his daughter -- she has conveniently disappeared.

It's sad, but Speyer and other elder law attorneys see cases like this every day. Occasionally the swindler plays the part of a romantic interest, even when the age difference -- sometimes multiple decades -- should set off alarm bells.
There's also a hidden, secret factor to these crimes. No one likes to admit to foolish behavior. Since victims of con games often don't come forward, law enforcement and families can be at a disadvantage. These cases can be tough to investigate months after the con takes place and, even in successful prosecutions, the assets are usually gone. In some cases, so are lives.

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