Misuse and theft of property and assets is a type of financial abuse that is becoming increasingly common against elderly citizens. The number of Americans that are over the age of 65 is rapidly growing as the “baby boomer” generation ages, and these elderly citizens can be easy targets for deceptive individuals. Property and asset theft can be more difficult to identify than theft of funds, and can yield higher gains for criminals.
Elderly Property and Asset Risk Factors
Elderly citizens are frequently victims of property and asset theft, with relatives being the most common culprits for the theft. Relatives are often in charge of caring for the patient that is victimized, and may be in charge of handling finances. This puts the relative or relatives in a position to easily manipulate property and assets.
Entitlement of Relatives
Relatives that have been caring for a patient and are stated as beneficiaries may feel entitled to property and assets that are possessions of the patient. Relatives may justify the theft as borrowing from assets that will later be willed. Relatives may also see the theft as payment for care that would otherwise be provided by paid caregivers in institutional settings.
Relatives or other caregivers that have access to a patient’s property and asset information may take advantage of the patient’s lack of computer knowledge to hide theft or misuse from the patient. The abuser may change usernames and passwords to disable the patient from having access to information or may make transactions online knowing that the patient does not know how to spot the abuse. The abuser may also lie to the patient about what different things on statements mean.
Lack of Consequences
Criminals that engage in the misuse of a patient’s property and assets often feel secure that there will be no consequences for the abuse. Patients will often not report the abuse in cases where a relative is the abuser, for fear of being abandoned by family members. Abusers may also believe that a patient will not live long enough to follow through with legal action.
Types of Property and Asset Abuse
Property and asset abuse of a patient occurs any time that an individual uses the asset or property for gains that do not benefit the patient. Abusers may sell property or belongings, cash in investments, or otherwise receive cash for property and assets that belong to the victim. Abusers may also take possession of assets belonging to the patient for personal use.
Property and asset abuse of elderly patients may include:
- Forging the patient’s signature on financial documents
- Selling a home without permission
- Selling vehicles such as boats, cars, and trucks without permission
- Moving into the patient’s home and forcing the patient out
- Moving into the patient’s home without contributing monetarily
- Forcing the patient to provide gifts, monetary or otherwise
- Selling investments such as stocks and bonds
- Seizing possessions such as appliances, weapons, etc.
- Taking over bank accounts and funds
- Forcing the patient to change a will
- Predatory marriage of an elder patient strictly for monetary gains
Preventing Property and Asset Abuse
Property and asset abuse can be difficult to prevent, as the patient must usually put systems in place in advance to prevent the abuse. Patients that appoint several different people to manage property and assets will have a network in place to prevent abuse. Keeping in touch with many relatives and friends will also help to prevent the risk of isolation, which is a major contributing factor to abuse.
Handling Property and Asset Abuse
If it becomes known that an elderly patient has been the victim of property and asset abuse, there are programs in place that may be able to provide assistance. An attorney may be able to assist with nullifying sales that have been made with forged signatures. An attorney may also be able to provide advice on recovering assets that have been stolen.
“Elder Financial Exploitation.” National Adult Protective Services Association. National Adult Protective Services Association, n.d. Web. 23 Feb 2014. <http://www.napsa-now.org/policy-advocacy/world-elder-abuse-awareness-day/>.
“The 2013 Florida Statutes.” Online Sunshine. The Florida Legislature, 23 Feb 2014. Web. 23 Feb 2014. <http://www.leg.state.fl.us/statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&Search_String=&URL=0800-0899/0825/Sections/0825.103.html>.
“Types of Abuse.” National Center on Elder Abuse. Department of Health and Human Services, n.d. Web. 23 Feb 2014. <http://ncea.aoa.gov/FAQ/Type_Abuse/