This topic covers financial abuse — how to recognize it, and how to get help.
Elders and other vulnerable adults are often targeted by unscrupulous people who want to take away the elders’ savings, investments, cars, even their homes and their identities. The perpetrators are sometimes professional criminals; more often they are care givers; and most often of all, they are family members. Many elders are too embarrassed or ashamed to seek help when they have been taken advantage of. Choosing not to get help can be a terrible decision. In many cases, financial abuse is a crime. Sometimes perpetrators will disappear with a victim’s life’s savings, leaving the victim destitute and homeless. In some situations, perpetrators have even been known to kill their victims when the victims no longer have any money for them to take or when the victims have written wills that give the perpetrators money or things that the perpetrators will try to get as soon as the victim dies. In short, being embarrassed is a small price to pay for your personal and financial security.
Financial abuse encompasses a whole array of wrongdoing. Some examples include:
There are many other situations where an unscrupulous person tries to take advantage of a trusting vulnerable person.
Oregon law provides for both criminal and civil sanctions against financial abusers of vulnerable persons. The examples just laid out are different varieties of theft, including identity theft and theft by deception. These are crimes that can be prosecuted by the state. Depending on the amount taken or wrongfully kept, the theft could be a misdemeanor or a felony. This kind of conduct can sometimes be characterized as criminal mistreatment, which generally carries even stiffer penalties. In successful prosecutions of these cases, the state is sometimes able to get stolen property back, and it often tries to get the offender to pay restitution as part of the penalty for the crime. If you suspect that someone, even if it is a family member or friend, is using your money, property or good name improperly, you can call the area agency on aging in your area or call toll free to the elder abuse prevention line at (800) 232-3020. You also can call the police in your community for assistance. The district attorney, and in some cases, the attorney general’s office, handles prosecutions in these cases.
Local district attorneys’ offices and the attorney general’s office do not represent people in civil cases. For elders and people with disabilities who have been financially abused, there are at least two civil remedies that are not available to other people. One is a protection order under the Elder and Disabled Persons Abuse Prevention Act. If you ask the court for this kind of protection order, there is no filing fee; in many cases, you likely do not even need a lawyer to start the case. The court clerk’s office has the necessary forms. You also can download the forms using the Internet. Another civil remedy applies to many more situations. It is called an action for abuse of elderly or incapacitated person. You can file this kind of case if you have been injured or suffered damages as a result of financial abuse. This kind of case can be filed by the heirs or the personal representative of a person whose death was the result of abuse. You can sue not only the person who directly caused the harm but also someone who permitted that person to harm you. Having representation by an attorney is essential in this kind of case. If you win your case, the court will order the abuser to pay your attorney’s fees and your costs in the case, as well as damages of at least $500, and other money to compensate you for your suffering. The court also can order the abuser to return property and stay away from you, among other things. This kind of case cannot be brought against financial institutions like banks, or health care facilities, or brokers unless the person is convicted of a crime in relation to the abuse that you have used as the basis of your lawsuit.
Other civil and criminal remedies that are available for everyone also apply to people with disabilities and elders. An attorney can explain what some of those remedies are.
Legal editor: Janine Robben, June 2009