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Lottery Scams are on the Rise

At first, you might think your prayers have been answered.

A recent woodtv.com article, “88-year-old nearly scammed by fake lottery, warns others,” tells the story of an elderly couple who love their home. Unfortunately, they are running out of money and may need to move. That’s why it was such a godsend when a letter came in the mail telling Betty that she’d won $4.5 million in a Madrid-based lottery.

Money-256319_640“It was stamped by the government, approved by the government,” Betty said. “I just figured, all these stamps, it’s got to be real.”

The letter from Portugal arrived weeks after she’d mailed a different ball-related game of chance, a Pick Quick card that had come in a Publishers Clearing House mailing. She thought the letter was notification that her Pick Quick card was a winner.

But this was different. The letter from “The Mega Lottery Picker 2017” explained that she’d have to give 5% of her winnings to a “promotions company” and they offered to wire the money to her bank account. How convenient, Betty thought.

Fortunately, before calling the lottery company with her banking information, she first called an attorney who she was already scheduled to meet the next day to talk about the couple’s finances. Betty thought there was no need to meet because she was now rich. But the paralegal she spoke with at the law firm was suspicious and asked Betty not to call the “lottery.”

After investigating, the law firm saw that it was a scam, much to Betty’s disbelief.

This scam isn’t uncommon. For example, the federal government is now prosecuting several Jamaicans in a telemarketing lottery scheme that allegedly bilked around 100 Americans out of more than $5.7 million. Many of the victims were elderly. There’s no evidence the letter Betty received is linked to the Jamaican scam.

The Federal Trade Commission offers the following tips to recognize a scam and to avoid being scammed.

  • There’s a fee to pay;
  • You must wire the company money;
  • You’re required to deposit a check sent to you;
  • They say they’re from the government;
  • It’s a bulk mail notice;
  • They call you, even though your number is on the Do Not Call Registry;
  • You get a text message about a prize; and
  • A review online shows complaints.

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Reference: woodtv.com (June 30, 2017) “88-year-old nearly scammed by fake lottery, warns others”

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New York Police Officer Sued for Welfare Check on Senior

Tablet with penThe New York Law Journal reported in a recent article, “Officer's Welfare-Check on Elderly Man Is Shielded by Immunity, Court Says,” that New York Judge Frank Geraci said the search by Orchard Park Police Department Lt. Joseph Buccilli was permissible, when lives or health could be at stake based on a 911 call.

The judge said the police officer was protected by his good faith actions in responding to an emergency. He had qualified immunity from a suit filed by the owners of the home he entered, in alleged violation of residents' Fourth Amendment rights to privacy. The judge went on to say that even if Buccilli's beliefs that his actions were justified in entering the home were based on wrong assumptions, the officer’s actions weren’t so "plainly incompetent" as would qualify as a violation of the resident's Fourth Amendment rights.

The judge said "…no one has pointed this court to any controlling case that clearly establishes the answer to this question: When performing a welfare check on an individual in response to a request from adult protective services (or a similar agency), may a police officer enter a location to determine the welfare of that individual?"

Buccilli was called to the Buffalo area home of the Batt family. LuAnn was the daughter of the elderly Fred Puntoriero, whom the family had taken in after he was diagnosed years earlier with dementia. Fred's daughter-in-law called the local Adult Protective Services in April 2012, complaining that she and her husband hadn’t been permitted to see Fred for several weeks. They were concerned about his condition. Fred’s son (Joe) and daughter (LuAnn) each had power of attorney over their father, according to the ruling.

Adult Protective Services made a 911 call to Buccilli the next day. Joe didn’t want to let the officer in, but Buccilli followed Joe through a side door and found wheelchair-bound Fred inside the home. Fred looked well-groomed and well-fed. He was able to identify himself, and an Adult Protective Services case worker later confirmed that Fred was under hospice care and was receiving good care. Fred died later in 2012, at age 76.

The daughter sued the police officer for violation of their Fourth Amendment rights in a 42 U.S.C. §1983 action.

Reference: New York Law Journal (April 3, 2017) “Officer's Welfare-Check on Elderly Man Is Shielded by Immunity, Court Says”

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Some Facts about Elder Financial Exploitation

Old lady on computer“As with those who have endured other types of abuse, victims of financial elder abuse often feel they can't or shouldn't seek recourse.”

Perpetrators of financial exploitation are frequently family members, caregivers or other people who are known and trusted by the elderly. This makes many seniors who are financially exploited, even more reluctant to come forward. Perpetrators often depend on this or pressure victims to keep quiet.

As Yahoo Finance recently posted in “What to Do If You or Someone You Love Has Been Financially Exploited,” betrayal by a family member or another trusted person is especially hard on those who are financially abused. Seniors who've been financially exploited, may feel shame and guilt. Consequently, they do not feel entitled to help or support, let alone to feel victimized.

The widespread nature of financial exploitation shows that it can happen to almost anybody. More states are trying to find ways to legally address financial exploitation and to better address and deter this abuse, as the population ages and an increasing number of seniors are vulnerable.

Most states criminalize financial elder abuse.

This means that, in addition to laws already in effect to prosecute theft, there are added penalties, which can be filed in financial exploitation cases involving seniors or vulnerable adults,  increasing the jail time for perpetrators.

Some states also now have statutes allowing older or vulnerable adults to sue specifically for elder financial exploitation. The states include Arizona, California, Florida, Oregon, Minnesota, Utah, Illinois and Washington.

A key feature of elder financial exploitation cases is that they allow victims to sue for multiple times the amount lost (usually two or three times the amount) and to recover attorneys' fees. This punishes perpetrators more and acts as a deterrent. This approach also encourages settlement of these cases. Awarding attorneys' fees is another incentive for seniors to secure legal representation.

Remember that the cost of financial abuse goes beyond the monetary loss. Victims and their families should access services, like counseling and case management, to help them heal after being financially abused.

Reference: Yahoo Finance (March 14, 2017) “What to Do If You or Someone You Love Has Been Financially Exploited”

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Tennessee Eyes New Law on Elder Abuse

Old lady“A group of lawmakers have teamed up to address what they said is a growing issue across the state – elderly abuse.”

Tennessee state lawmakers recently announced legislation that would address the abuse of elderly or vulnerable adults in the state.

Nashville News Channel 5’s report, “New Legislation Targets Elder Abuse,” explains that Senate Bills 1192, 1230 and 1267 would help protect against physical, mental and financial abuse. They also aim to increase penalties for people who commit such crimes.

The bills would add more criminal penalties for those found guilty of elderly abuse. They would also increase communication between government agencies to raise awareness of scams that target the elderly and ease restrictions on financial confidentiality laws, which permit family members to report problems.

The bills are from the Elderly and Vulnerable Adult Abuse Task Force.

The Tennessee Bankers Association noted that the new laws would also give financial institutions additional authority to act, if an employee thought that a customer was being taken advantage of financially.

“Bankers are often on the front lines. We see our customers being scammed and under current law, there isn’t really anything we can do,” said Tim Amos, Executive Vice President of the Tennessee Bankers Association. "To have a process to allow us to ask you to pause the transaction or wait until tomorrow or until you consult with family, is a pretty big step.”

The National Council on Aging reports that about 10% of Americans who are age 60 and older have experienced some type of elder abuse. The lawmakers in Tennessee found studies over the past 10 years showing that the reported cases of assault and financial exploitation of vulnerable adults has gone up by at least 20%.  It is estimated that as many as one in 23 cases of elder abuse go unreported.

The 2010 census found that the portion of the U.S. population over age 65 is 13.4% of the total. The fastest growing segment includes those who are age 85 and older.

The elder abuse protection bills in Tennessee are expected to be sent to committees in the coming weeks. Lawmakers say they are confident the bills will receive overwhelming bipartisan support.

Reference: Nashville News Channel 5 (February 28, 2017) “New Legislation Targets Elder Abuse”

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Use Caution in Helping with Seniors’ Finances

Old lady on computerAssisting someone with his or her finances sounds simple, right? Your mom, a neighbor or the person for whom you provide home health care may ask you to write a few checks out of her checkbook because it’s difficult for her to see. She may ask you to pick up a few groceries and gives you some cash. You’d think that folks would understand your good intentions and maybe even thank you.

But Bankrate’s article, “Be cautious before helping seniors with their finances,” warns that, unfortunately, it may turn out differently. Unless you’re an only child helping your parent, when you start writing checks, suspicions may arise, with or without justification.

Elder law attorneys hear of financial elder abuse suspicions and actual abuse on a regular basis.  Therefore, just because a senior asks for your help, doesn't mean you should help. This is because things can get complicated.

Once you get involved, you may see that there are many moving parts.  There could be an already-troubled senior who’s paying some bills twice and some not at all, or donating money to questionable organizations. Their finances may be in disrepair. Remember, if you don't have the time and aren’t ready to take on a complex process with legal implications, just say no.

Power of Attorney. A power of attorney gives the holder authority to execute certain transactions. While you don't need an estate planning attorney to create up a power of attorney (POA), you're taking a chance if you choose the do-it-yourself route. If you need to obtain a guardianship (or conservatorship) for the senior, you’ll need an elder law attorney. A guardianship gives you the authority to take control of the senior’s finances. There will be a court hearing, and you’ll have to present medical records and be represented by an attorney.

Minimize Risks. It is important to try to minimize the risks for the senior and maximize financial accountability. Monthly bills like utilities can be directly debited from the senior's bank account.  You should never sign the senior’s name on checks or credit card purchases. They may insist that it is okay, but they would be wrong.

Record-keeping. Regardless of the amount of authority you have been given to help a senior or control their finances, it's crucial that you keep meticulous records to protect yourself. POAs should hang on to receipts for everything and never combine their money with the senior's money. You should never borrow money from them, and don’t fall into the trap of believing you’re entitled to money because their family is never involved. That’s financial exploitation, and it is a criminal act.

Communication. If a senior has adult children or close family members, you and the senior should maintain a strong line of communication. One suggestion is monthly reports to at least one other person. It is important to document everything and to make certain that all family members are informed.

Reference: Bankrate (February 15, 2017) “Be cautious before helping seniors with their finances”

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