Friday, June 23, 2017
Elder abuse can take many forms besides the obvious
We often think of elder abuse in terms of what we can readily observe-- physical acts committed against older people, hidden cameras revealing in-home caregivers or nursing home employees lashing out at those they've been entrusted to protect. But there's another form that can sometimes take years to recognize and can be difficult to prosecute, but it is abuse nonetheless-- financial exploitation of the elderly.
With my parents recently retired, I've been on the lookout for information about how to improve quality of life for the 65+ population. That's why yesterday's Tribune article about a Blue Island car dealership allegedly taking advantage of an 85-year-old customer caught my attention.
Her son says his mother, June Shivers, dropped off her beloved 2005 Lincoln LS one day for some repairs. She came home later that afternoon with a 2014 Ford Fusion and a six-year payment plan at about $400 per month.
It appears that she thought the dealership was giving her a "loaner" car to test-drive for a couple days while the Lincoln was in the shop. Concerned, her son called the dealership after his mother's friends told him, "I think they're trying to sell your mom a car." The dealership assured him she was just going to take it for a test drive, but when she got home, he found documents in her possession, bearing her signature, that suggest otherwise.
She's since filed a lawsuit against the dealership and the bank that provided the financing. Her son says she wasn't given a fair trade-in value for the Lincoln; she got a $600 credit when a fair one would have totaled at least $2,000. He also claims that his mother has been having problems with her memory and was not in a position to make the transaction. He believes the dealership took advantage of her.
The Blue Island business, however, asserts that they had seen June Shivers several times over the years, and that they didn't notice any signs that she was having cognitive difficulties. The car has since been repossessed, and she's still on the hook for what's left of the loan, more than $10,000.
It's not clear what happened here. It seems odd that she would trade in a vehicle that she loved, when it was fully paid for, and take on a purchase that would leave her in so much debt. Unfortunately, it appears that her family hasn't provided any documentation of her memory problems, which would help their case. Still, something doesn't add up.
Her son alleges she didn't know what she was signing when she provided her John Hancock on the forms that finalized the sale, and that she never would have given up her Lincoln.
Cases like this remind us to keep tabs on our older loved ones. It's bad enough when businesses take advantage of them. And there are the numerous phone scams where some unknown individual contacts them to tell them their child needs to be bailed out of jail or that they must support a particular cause. Too often, the elderly victims send money or provide bank account information, their assets are taken, and by the time law enforcement can get involved, it's usually too late to recoup the losses.
What's especially troubling is that fraud often takes more subtle forms, and the older person is exploited by some one he or she knows and trusts. The New York Times reports that, in many cases, the guilty parties are the victims' own friends or family members.
They may seek access to the older person's home or bank account, stealing small amounts at a time so as not to call too much attention to themselves. Those with dementia and similar problems are especially vulnerable, because they're less likely to recognize what's happening. Yet they can be cheated out of their entire life savings, sometimes even losing their homes, too.
It can appear that they consented to the withdrawals or willingly gave away valuable possessions since they readily provided access to their assets, when in reality they didn't know they were being fleeced of everything they had.
Many instances of abuse go unreported. Authorities may be reluctant to get involved, thinking it's a "family matter." But as increasing numbers of well-off Americans reach their golden years, there's been a resounding call in many states and locales to put stiffer penalties on the books for those who take advantage of this population, and several jurisdictions have taken measures to crack down on elder exploitation.
In 2010, the federal government passed the Elder Justice Act to raise awareness of financial crimes committed against older people, and to encourage reporting of cases of exploitation.
Greater awareness and tougher legislation are definitely in order. It's also important for the families of exploited individuals, when reporting such cases, to provide relevant medical information if their loved one has memory loss. Doing so makes it easier for a judge, jury, or police officer to understand how the victim could easily be taken advantage of.
Meanwhile, keep an eye on your older loved one. If they mention that they've recently turned over the keys to their home or granted power of attorney to some one you wouldn't expect or don't trust, don't be afraid to ask questions and dig deeper. If the person in question is not doing anything suspicious, they should be willing to be transparent about their relationship to your loved one, and should understand why you're concerned.
If fraudulent activity is going on, then you can intervene early, before your loved one's entire livelihood is lost, and the criminal can hopefully be brought to justice before any more damage is done.
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Elder abuse can take many forms besides the obvious