Financial Abuse of Elders

Written by Thomas Seall, University of Florida Levin College of Law

At this year’s annual Education and Prevention Symposium on Legal aspects of elder abuse I had the pleasure of attending a presentation from Shannon Miller.  Shannon Miller Is an attorney with the Miller elder law Firm located in Gainesville, Florida. Ms. Miller discussed the issue of financial exploitation of vulnerable elders and the legal tools we have to help prevent this issue. Last year in the United States 36 million dollars, equal to McDonalds yearly profit, was stolen by scammers. This figure is also considered by most to be lower then the actual amount stolen because a lot of people do not report being scammed due to feelings of embarrassment and shame. The average financially exploited person loses $17,000, due to this high value scammers will go through great lengths to get people to divulge information. Another issue is the revictimization that occurs to those who have been financially exploited. This revictimization is the function 2 variables, first is the brain of some is wired in a fundamentally different way that makes them more susceptible to being scammed. This is do to a thinning of a part of the insular cortex in the brain. The second variable is that because a scammed person is so valuable their information is often sold on the dark web to other scammers to attempt to use it.

Elders are often the target of scammers because they are generally wealthier, less familiar with technology, and often have some form of diminished capacity. The issue with elders who are easily financially exploited is that they may have enough capacity to avoid then need for guardianship but are still financially vulnerable. Another issue is that financial exploitation can often occur from family members which makes it difficult to uncover. Law enforcement can also be a hinderance towards ending the financial exploitation as they often tell people it is a civil matter, when in fact, it is a criminal offense. The crime is also difficult to prosecute leading to there not be much of a priority on these cases.

A new tool to fight the exploitation of elders in Florida is the injunction for protection against the exploitation of vulnerable adults. This injunction allows for injunctive relief that can protect the vulnerable adult for 15 days without giving notice to the other party. After the 15 days there is a hearing at which point the relief can be increased or removed. The injunction petition can be filled by the vulnerable adult or by someone else with the vulnerable adult’s consent. The petition does not require a lawyer to file and there is no filling fee. This new injunction provides a valuable tool in protecting vulnerable adults from exploitation from both strangers and family members.