Scams against the elderly have been on the increase since the start of “The Great Recession” in 2008. These threats have led a few state legislatures to look at new laws to protect seniors.
A Virginia lawmaker recently introduced a bill modeled after similar laws in Florida, Nevada and Arizona, which would designate scams directed at people over 60 years of age as a felony offense. The Washington Post , in an editorial, gave its support to the bill as a “start to securing justice for some of society’s most vulnerable victims.”
The Post editorial summarized the financial threats that often face people over 50. The more common scams include the infamous internet Nigerian Lottery scam (we have all received the email), con artists known as “woodchucks” and individuals utilizing Powers of Attorneys inappropriately, after gaining the confidence of a senior.
I was curious about the term Woodchuck. It refers to a con man that appears at the door of an elderly homeowner, often suffering from some form of dementia, who convinces the homeowner that a tree limb or branch poses a dire risk to the homeowner or his guests. After minimal work is completed, a hefty bill is produced for services. The Woodchuck may also use the contact as a way to gain access to the home of the victim.
The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) serves as a national resource center dedicated to the prevention of elder mistreatment. They have published a fact sheet that is intended to help all of us to prevent, recognize and report elder abuse.
The NCEA reports that elder abuse affects Seniors across all socio-economic groups, cultures and races. It occurs in personal residences, nursing homes and other institutions. Some of the warning signs of financial elder abuse are a sudden change in finances, altered wills/trusts, unusual bank withdrawals, checks written as loans/gifts and the loss of property.
The NCEA also has found that dementia is often a significant risk factor as well as mental health and substance abuse issues (of both the abuser and the victim).
Through the years I have been able to help several clients who have been scammed or exploited. However, I believe as the NCEA does, that elder abuse is an under recognized problem with devastating consequences. I intend to use my regular blog posts in the upcoming weeks to highlight the issues of elder abuse and what we can do as a community to combat it.
Michael P. Dansack