Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Warning: Seniors be on the Lookout for Opportunistic Scammers.

Seniors’ money is always a temptation. Last month, a state appellate court upheld the elder abuse conviction of two investment advisers who targeted elders. These advisers offered free estate reviews to discover the elder’s net worth and then would approach the client to invest in speculative ventures, lying to and bullying them if necessary. A dozen or so seniors lost more than $1 million. The abusers are facing 12 to 17 years in prison.

In September, one senior was barred for abusing another senior citizen from a home he co-owned. The 70-year-old rented a room from an older woman, began doing repairs around the house in lieu of rent and then pressured the woman to sell her mobile home and move them both into a housing development. After he convinced her to put the new house in joint tenancy, which ensured the survivor of the two would inherit the home, he began a campaign of harassing her until, in his words, she dropped dead from stress. A government conservator has been appointed to unravel the legal relationship.

In another case, an abuser began insinuating himself into the life of an emotionally dependent man, eventually taking over his financial affairs. He convinced the elderly man to put him on the checking account, and withdrew, over five years, more than $600,000. When the victim balked at paying more money, the abuser would intimidate him into signing the checks. Finally, the abuser convinced his elderly victim to make him sole heir to his estate. That court case is still pending.

In a similar case, a volunteer caregiver took some $60,000 from an elderly woman and convinced her to make him the sole heir. He had to hunt for an estate planner, because at least one attorney had refused to do it on the grounds she was no longer mentally competent to make such decisions.

Elder abuse includes neglect of a senior. Geriatric professionals can be liable under elder abuse laws, and numerous prosecutions involve mistreatment in nursing homes. A common claim is that institutionalized seniors suffer serious and deadly bedsores from neglect to sanitize sheets or move the patient on a regular basis. The nursing home and the attending physicians may face charges under elder abuse in these cases. Family members who similarly neglect care for their senior relatives might also find themselves in court.

Violence against senior citizens is a common basis for prosecution. On Christmas Eve 2005, a 74-year-old man was attacked and robbed in his home by a neighbor. The abuser used a stun gun to "zap" the older man so he could take the man’s wallet. He faces six years in prison. New Yorkers were recently shocked by a brazen daylight attack on a woman more than 90 years old who was beaten to the ground so the attacker could get her purse. These cases horrify civilized society.

Violent elder abuse is a crime of cowards and bullies, so we often cheer when a senior turns the table on the abuser. Last February, a 70-year-old retired soldier defended his touring group in Costa Rica by killing an armed robber with his bare hands. In June, a former Marine killed one robber and critically wounded the second one after they tried to rob him at a Subway Sandwich Shop in Florida. That same month, a retired police officer helped subdue a psychotic airline passenger in Boston and, in April, a former Miss America in Kansas shot out the tires of burglars who were attempting to leave her farm with stolen loot.

If you are concerned about loved seniors, check on them regularly at the nursing homes, monitor their expenditures, find out who is hanging around them and possibly exerting undue influence on their decisions. Most of all, don’t ignore them.

• Pamela Case, a local freelance paralegal, is among a select group of local residents rotating their columns in the Sunday Tracy Press.

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