Financial abuse of Missouri senior citizens

On behalf of Christine Alsop

Our elders are all too often the victims of financial fraud and abuse.

Financial exploitation happens when someone illegally uses someone else’s money or other resources for the thief’s profit or gain. Seniors are at particular risk of financial abuse for a number of reasons:

  • A senior may have a cognitive disability.
  • A senior may need to place trust in others to receive care or assistance he or she can no longer provide independently.
  • A senior may have no reason to suspect dishonesty and therefore places trust in a friend, relative or caregiver.
  • An elder may have limited understanding of legal documents or financial matters.
  • An elderly person may be vulnerable because of loneliness, loss, depression, isolation and other challenging conditions or emotions.
  • A senior may not have an understanding of what his or her property is worth.
  • An elder may not be technologically savvy.
  • And more

Some of the more common types of financial exploitation experienced by elders include:

  • A person with access to the senior’s bank account skims off the top or makes unauthorized withdrawals.
  • A con artist tells an elder that he or she has won money or owes money and thereby gains access to a bank account.
  • An elder is deliberately overcharged for a service or purchase.
  • A senior may grant a power of attorney or sign a will or deed in response to coercion or fraud.
  • A senior may enter into a contract unknowingly or not understanding what he or she is signing.
  • And more

In Missouri, it is a crime to financially exploit an elderly or disabled person by “knowingly by deception, intimidation, undue influence, or force” getting control of the “person’s property with the intent to permanently deprive the elderly or disabled person of the use, benefit or possession of his or her property …” The classification of and punishment for this crime increases in seriousness as the value of the property exploited rises.

For example, the Springfield News-Leader reported in March 2015 that a man had been charged with this Missouri state crime for impersonating an electrical worker and demanding more than $5,000 from an 89-year-old woman for work that was never needed and not actually done.

Financial abuse of an elderly person may also constitute a variety of white collar crimes or violate deceptive trade practices laws under Missouri or federal laws, depending on the situation.

While such blatant exploitation by a stranger is shocking, sadly, financial exploitation of the elderly too often happens at the hands of family members, who have easy access to their trusting relatives’ money and assets. Sometimes family members feel entitled to sharing in their elderly relatives’ property or use it to satisfy chemical or gambling addictions.

If a Missouri resident is concerned about an elderly person being exploited financially, there are some short- and long-term remedies. Any Missourian who suspects financial exploitation of a senior citizen by anyone can report to law enforcement or call the Missouri Adult Abuse and Neglect Hotline.

In the long term, it may be appropriate for the elder’s money or assets to be placed in trust, to appoint a power of attorney or for a guardian or conservator to be appointed.

A concerned family member, friend, neighbor, person with a power of attorney, guardian or conservator, caregiver or other person suspecting financial abuse, as well as a senior him or herself who feels he or she may have been financially victimized, should speak with an experienced elder law attorney for to understand the options and potential legal remedies, including a possible lawsuit.

Keywords: elder, victim, financial abuse, fraud, Missouri, senior citizen, exploitation, money, property, crime, asset