Financial Abuse of the Elderly

10 Questions About Financial Abuse of the Elderly1. Who is affected?

The term “elderly” or “senior” is defined in the applicable law. Most statutes that give seniors extra consumer protection define the protected class as persons 65 years or older.

2. Why do seniors need special protection?

After retirement, which for most Americans is the age of 65, people are more likely to live on a fixed income. After retirement, seniors are less able to recover from serious financial mistakes or fraud. As people age, they become vulnerable to emotional and financial pressures. This is not only true within families, but also in commercial settings.

3. Doesn’t abuse mean physical abuse?

No. For example, the Welfare & Institutions Code expressly defines abuse of an elder to include financial abuse as well as physical abuse or neglect.

4. What is the difference between financial abuse and just a "bad deal"?

In California “financial abuse” of an elder occurs when a person or entity takes or retains property of someone over 65 years old for a wrongful use or with intent to defraud that person. It also occurs when a person or entity commits deceptive acts or business practices, including a number of specific types of misrepresentation or unconscionable practices, against senior citizens.

5. What laws can help seniors?

In California, several consumer protection statutes provide for higher damages and special penalties, if the plaintiff is over 65 and can prove he or she was the victim of fraud or deceptive practices. Even the civil rights statutes can be employed in some instances. The California Civil Code, Welfare & Institutions Code, and Finance Code are all useful tools in providing remedies for financial elder abuse.

6. Can I file a lawsuit using these laws on behalf of my parent who lives out of state?

In some instances it may depend on where the senior lived at the time the violation occurred, but generally the senior must reside in California to benefit from these California protection laws.

7. What if the person defrauding my mother didn’t know her age?

Don’t assume the person deceiving the senior was unaware of her age. For example, a car dealer looks at the driver’s license at the time of a test drive, or a hearing aid salesperson takes down medical information.

8. What if the senior does not have dementia?

The consumer protection laws are based on the age of the victim, not just their mental state. However, if the elderly person is also mentally infirm, there may be additional remedies as well.

9. What kind of transactions might involve elder abuse?

All sorts of sales, leases, and service contracts. The range of transactions is extremely broad, covering the full range of consumer goods and services, as well as financial products such as loans and bank accounts. It could involve the sale of cars or motor homes, medical devices such as hearing aids, home improvement contracts such as remodels or solar panels, home or personal alarm systems, TV or cable systems, dental or medical services, and nursing care.

10. Does financial abuse of the elderly also occur in banking?

Absolutely. The laws protecting against financial abuse of the elderly also address all sorts of lending, leasing and finance contracts. Often the seller of goods or services - whether a home alarm system or a hearing aid - offers financing to go with it. That is a red flag for fraud. The profit off financing can exceed the profit from the goods or services themselves. The risk of deceptive financing in these cases is high and consumer protection laws seek to address this harm.