Elderly consumer fraud refers to deceptive or fraudulent activities targeted at older adults, typically above the age of 60, with the aim of exploiting their financial resources.
These activities may include scams, identity theft, telemarketing fraud, or other financial schemes specifically designed to take advantage of elderly individuals who may be more susceptible due to age, cognitive decline, or isolation.
Elder financial abuse is a form of elderly consumer fraud that involves the unauthorized or illegal use of an older adult’s financial resources by a family member, caregiver, or an outside party. This can include theft, forgery, improper use of power of attorney, or even undue influence to manipulate financial decisions.
How Can I Know If Someone Has Defrauded Me?
Detecting elderly consumer fraud, particularly in California, can involve a combination of the following methods:
Monitoring Financial Statements Regularly
Review your bank and credit card statements every month. Look for any charges or withdrawals that you don’t recognize or remember making. If you spot anything suspicious, contact your bank or credit card company immediately to report the issue and request an investigation.
Checking Credit Reports for Suspicious Activities or Unauthorized Accounts
Obtain a free annual credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) through AnnualCreditReport.com.
Review the reports carefully for any unfamiliar accounts, inquiries, or collection notices.
If you find anything suspicious, dispute the information with the credit bureau and consider placing a fraud alert on your credit file.
Paying Attention to Changes in Spending Habits, Unexplained Debts, or Sudden Financial Difficulties
Keep track of your expenses and budget to ensure your spending aligns with your financial goals.
It may be a sign of fraud if you notice that you’re suddenly struggling to pay bills or have unexplained debts.
Investigate the source of these financial issues and consult with a financial advisor or attorney if necessary.
Staying Alert to Unsolicited Phone Calls or Emails
Be cautious of phone calls or emails from unknown sources, especially if they request personal or financial information.
Do not provide any sensitive information, and do not click on links or download attachments from unfamiliar emails.
If you receive a suspicious piece of mail, such as a letter claiming you’ve won a prize or a check from an unknown source, treat it with skepticism and verify its authenticity before acting on the contents.
What Are Some Indicators of Fraud?
Some common indicators of elderly consumer fraud include:
- Unusual bank activity or transactions: If you notice multiple withdrawals from your bank account within a short period that you did not authorize, or if there are transactions made in locations where you haven’t been, these could be indicators of fraud.
- Unexplained withdrawals or charges on credit cards: You might discover purchases on your credit card statement for items or services you never ordered or recurring charges for subscriptions you never signed up for. These unexplained charges could suggest that someone has accessed your credit card information and is using it fraudulently.
- New accounts or loans in the elder’s name that they do not recognize: When reviewing your credit report, you might find a new credit card account, loan, or mortgage that you never applied for. This could indicate that someone has stolen your identity and opened these accounts in your name.
- Missing personal belongings or valuables: You may notice that jewelry, cash, or important documents are missing from your home. This could be a sign of theft, which may be part of a larger scheme to defraud you or gain access to your financial accounts.
- Changes in estate planning documents: You find out that your will has been unexpectedly altered or that someone has been granted power of attorney over your financial affairs without your knowledge or consent. This could be a sign that someone is trying to take control of your assets fraudulently.
- Unusual social behavior or new relationships: If an elderly person suddenly starts spending time with unfamiliar individuals or becomes secretive about their finances and relationships, this may indicate that they are being manipulated or influenced by someone with fraudulent intentions.
- High-pressure sales tactics or investment opportunities: If an elderly person is pressured into making quick decisions about investments or purchases without adequate time to research or consider the options, this could be a sign of fraud.
- Unexpected changes in financial institutions or advisors: If an elderly person suddenly switches banks, investment firms, or financial advisors without a reasonable explanation, it could indicate that they are being coerced or manipulated by someone with fraudulent intentions.
If you observe any of these indicators, take action immediately by reporting the suspicious activity to relevant financial institutions and contacting an attorney who specializes in elder law or consumer fraud.
Are There Any Consumer Fraud Laws That Protect the Elderly?
There are various consumer fraud laws that protect the elderly, such as the Older Americans Act, the Elder Abuse Victims Act, and the Elder Justice Act.
Older Americans Act (OAA)
The Older Americans Act is a federal law enacted in 1965 to improve the well-being of older adults in the United States. The OAA establishes a range of programs and services aimed at promoting the health, independence, and social engagement of seniors.
While it does not directly address consumer fraud, its provisions help support a network of services, such as legal assistance and elder rights protection, which can contribute to protecting elderly individuals from fraud and abuse.
Elder Abuse Victims Act
The Elder Abuse Victims Act is a proposed federal legislation that aims to improve the response to elder abuse, including financial exploitation, by providing resources and support to prosecutors, law enforcement, and victim assistance organizations.
The act seeks to enhance the investigation and prosecution of elder abuse cases, promote training for law enforcement and legal professionals, and increase public awareness about the issue.
Elder Justice Act
The Elder Justice Act is part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed in 2010. This legislation addresses elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation, including financial abuse. The act provides funding for various initiatives, such as Adult Protective Services (APS), long-term care ombudsman programs, and the establishment of the Elder Justice Coordinating Council.
The council aims to coordinate federal efforts to combat elder abuse and promote research, training, and best practices related to the prevention, detection, and prosecution of elder abuse cases, including financial exploitation.
These laws serve to protect elderly individuals from various forms of abuse, including consumer fraud and financial exploitation, by promoting awareness, providing resources, and strengthening the legal framework for addressing and preventing such issues.
In California, the state has specific elder abuse laws under the California Penal Code and the California Welfare and Institutions Code that address financial exploitation of older adults.
In cases of elderly consumer fraud or elder financial abuse, a criminal attorney may be needed to help navigate the legal process, represent the victim, and work towards recovering stolen assets or holding the perpetrator accountable.
Do I Need an Attorney?
If you suspect that you or a loved one has been a victim of elderly consumer fraud or elder financial abuse, consult with an experienced consumer lawyer.
An attorney will help you understand your rights, assist with reporting the fraud, and guide you through the legal process to seek compensation and justice for the losses incurred.