By Michael Gill, CSA®, CFE
Helping seniors isn’t my only passion; I’m also a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE). As such, I’ve studied issues about financial exploitation of the elderly. It’s heartbreaking when vulnerable seniors are defrauded, yet we’ve all seen it happen. The question of who commits these fraudulent acts is one that I’d like to share. The short answer: exploiters are commonly trusted individuals.
Trusted Individuals Exposed
The elderly put their faith and trust in a number of individuals who can quickly take advantage of a frail mind and condition. These culprits fall into several categories that include:
• Trusted Professionals. Rich, poor, famous or not, fraud can happen to anyone. Harper Lee, author of the great American novel “To Kill A Mockingbird,” this year sued her former agent for duping her into signing away the copyright to her famous book. Miss Lee now lives in an Assisted Living community, and at 87 years old, this lawsuit could outlive her. Additionally, her stroke-impaired condition compounds problems for her being a witness in the trial.
• So-called Friends. Liliane Bettencourt, possibly the world’s richest woman as a result of her $24 billion stake in L’Oreal, is another example. Her daughter is suing a photographer friend of her mother’s for having received $1.5 billion in gifts of cash, life insurance, and artwork — gifts her daughter claims rose to the legal standard of “exploitation of physical and psychological weakness for personal gain.” Interestingly, Liliane claims she’s perfectly fine and wants her daughter to butt out. As a result, “L’affair Bettencourt” continues to feed the tabloids.
• Cultural or Religious Associates. Affinity fraud is another frequent method scammers use to defraud seniors. In one Austin example, Kurt Barton of Triton Financial used his connections within the Mormon Church to lure investors. He hired two former Heisman Trophy winners, including fellow Mormon Ty Detmer, to add credibility to his marketing efforts. Within seven years of founding Triton, Barton had built up a $50 million Ponzi scheme with more than 300 investors in 33 states. Many of his victims were seniors, as well as Detmer, who also lost his life savings.
• Close Family. Of all senior fraud, relatives or caregivers perpetrate 55 percent. At the age of 104, famous heiress Brooke Astor became a victim of exploitation by her 82-year-old son Anthony Marshall, who was born of a previous marriage. In a case of naked greed, her son embezzled money and sold his mother’s art, then pocketed the money. Fortunately, Astor’s grandson exposed the exploitation being committed by his own father, as Astor was too far into Alzheimer’s disease to consent.
Most family-related financial exploitation is never reported, as many times the abuse may not be perceived as fraud. However, even subtle abuse where one sibling feels a senior living community is better suited to a parent, while another sibling, with whom the parent lives, feels he or she can provide better care. But, motives are often questionable, as some siblings have been known to use a parent’s income for personal gain. These subtle abuses are hard to prove and can be heartbreaking for the outsiders, looking in.
Fraud committed by third parties is a major threat to our senior population as well. We will examine Telemarketing fraud, internet fraud, identity theft, door-to-door fraudulent salesmen and other frauds in a separate blog post. Until then, readers are encouraged to look out for their elderly loved ones’ best interests, and help guard against fraud.
Texas Senior Living Locators can help you; your family or friends find the best available senior living options in Austin. Please contact us today at (512) 630-7133.
Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE)
Certified Senior Advisor (CSA)®