Every year there are more than 1,000 cases of financial exploitation of adults in the State of Virginia. The sad reality is elderly individuals are at a great risk of being taken advantage of by caregivers, including both professionals and relatives. Thankfully, legislators in Virginia recently passed a new law that is designed to help reduce that number.
The new law, which was implemented as of July 1, 2013, creates a criminal penalty for those who aim to take financial advantage of seniors. The law specifically states that it is a crime to financially exploit any mentally incapacitated adults.
One tragic case highlights the dangers of financial exploitation and involved a woman, Jeannie Beidler, who says her uncle financially exploited her grandparents, both of whom were suffering from dementia. Beidler says her uncle was their live-in caretaker and not only financially abused them, but also subjected them to physical abuse and neglect. The uncle would let the elderly couple sit around in their own waste for days while he forced Beidler’s grandmother to write him blank checks.
Once the scheme was finally uncovered the uncle was arrested and charged with abuse and neglect, but there was no crime for the financial exploitation he had engaged in. Now that the new law has been passed future cases will allow prosecutors to go after those people who preyed on vulnerable seniors in their time of need.
Sadly, stories of seniors being scammed out of the money it took them a lifetime of hard work to earn are increasingly common. According to a study by MetLife, incidents of elder financial fraud increased by 12% from 2008 to 2010, amounting to a whopping $2.9 billion in stolen money.
There are a lot of reasons why seniors are such attractive targets for financial crime. Experts say that those over the age of 50 control over 70% of the country’s wealth, yet many may not realize the true value of the property they possess. As elders become more physically frail, they may not see or hear as well or think as clearly as they used to, leaving openings for unscrupulous people to take advantage of them. As a group, the elderly are also likely to suffer from disabilities that make them dependent on others for help. These “helpers” may have nearly limitless access to the assets of their victims, and often exert powerful influence over the senior.
Though financial exploitation is bad enough, the fact is financial crime often goes hand in hand with other kinds of senior abuse. In many cases, caregivers who try and steal money from an elderly person have also been found to have either physically abused or neglected them.