Seniors A Growing Target of Financial Fraud

  • Elder Law
Seniors A Growing Target of Financial Fraud | Mario Godoy | Chicago Estate Planning Lawyer

Cook County Public Guardian Charles Golbert said taking financial advantage of the elderly is a “huge” problem and “it’s growing and it’s continuing to grow.” Unlike many states, Illinois does not have a law requiring banks to report suspected elder financial fraud and abuse. Golbert said that 40% of the new cases in the Public Guardian’s office involve financial theft of the elderly,

“Today with the aging baby boomers, robbing older people is a lot easier than robbing banks and it’s where the money is today.”

How Many People Are Affected?

An investigation by CBS news reports, “Seniors are becoming a growing target of financial fraud, fleeced of their life savings and often victimized by somebody they know.” Recent cases investigated by the Public Guardian office include:

  • a Korean War veteran with dementia after whose death it was discovered his sometimes home helper deposited checks totaling over $100,000 written to a non-existent person, as well as being the forged beneficiary of his VA life insurance policy
  • a 96-year-old woman suffering from dementia who claims she was defrauded of $500,000 by a former priest at her Ukrainian Orthodox church
  • staff members at the Symphony Nursing Home of Lincoln Park stole $700,000 from a resident with dementia by forging her name on checks

Chicago lawyer Mario Godoy advises,

If you believe an older family member is vulnerable to financial fraud or other forms of scams and crimes, it’s important to monitor their financial records. Consulting an attorney who understands Illinois and Cook County elder abuse laws and protection services can provide you with your legal options to protect a loved one.” 

The Cook County Public Guardian’s role is to protect the money and property of those who cannot do it themselves and have no one else to help.

Fraud Against Seniors

The FBI’s Common Fraud Schemes website provides tips on how you can protect yourself and your family from fraud. Senior citizens especially should be aware of fraud schemes for the following reasons:

  • Senior citizens are most likely to have a “nest egg,” to own their home, and/or to have excellent credit—all of which make them attractive to con artists.

  • People who grew up in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s were generally raised to be polite and trusting. Con artists exploit these traits, knowing that it is difficult or impossible for these individuals to say “no” or just hang up the telephone.

  • Older Americans are less likely to report a fraud because they don’t know who to report it to, are too ashamed at having been scammed, or don’t know they have been scammed. Elderly victims may not report crimes, for example, because they are concerned that relatives may think the victims no longer have the mental capacity to take care of their own financial affairs.

  • When an elderly victim does report the crime, they often make poor witnesses. Con artists know the effects of age on memory, and they are counting on elderly victims not being able to supply enough detailed information to investigators. In addition, the victims’ realization that they have been swindled may take weeks—or more likely, months—after contact with the fraudster. This extended time frame makes it even more difficult to remember details from the events.

  • Senior citizens are more interested in and susceptible to products promising increased cognitive function, virility, physical conditioning, anti-cancer properties, and so on. In a country where new cures and vaccinations for old diseases have given every American hope for a long and fruitful life, it is not so unbelievable that the con artists’ products can do what they claim.

The FBI Weighs In

The FBI website also says:

“if you are age 60 or older—and especially if you are an older woman living alone—you may be a special target of people who sell bogus products and services by telephone. Telemarketing scams often involve offers of free prizes, low-cost vitamins and health care products, and inexpensive vacations.”

Elder law addresses a broad range of legal issues that people encounter as they age. An elder law attorney draws on their experience in numerous areas of the law to help individuals plan for the future and address problems as they arise, such as abuse, financial fraud and medical care; as well as estate planning.

An experienced Illinois elder law attorney can explain applicable laws and advise you on the best options to protect the interests of senior citizens. Contact the Estate & Probate Legal Group at (630) 382-8073.