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Crimes of elder financial exploitation damage more than a senior citizen’s bank account.
James Lindsay is a financial exploitation attorney for Legal Aid of West Virginia and a leader in a multi-agency state task force fighting elder financial abuse.
Lindsay addressed the West Virginia Legislature’s interim meeting of the Children and Families Committee Tuesday. He said about half of the state’s 16,000 elder abuse and neglect cases involve financial exploitation.
“Financial exploitation is what we call the biggest ‘silent crime’ in the United States,” Lindsay said. “One study from the Government Accountability Office found about $5.5 million in assets from about 158 incapacitated victims, most of whom were seniors. The estimated cost of financial exploitation in the United States is approximately $3 billion.”
Lindsay listed the usual suspects in elder financial exploitation, including computer hackers, identity thieves, IRS scams, government impostors and impostor businesses. However, he focused his remarks on nearly half of all state and national scam artists, calling them the ‘“unusual suspects.”
“These people come from diverse professional backgrounds. We’ve had engineers, bankers — these are trusted agents, consumers, friends, family, people who the elderly trust with their finances,” Lindsay said. “A lot of family members, spouses, caregivers, needy children, grandchildren, best friends and neighbors, guardians and conservators.”
He said several recently passed West Virginia laws have greatly aided in investigation, prosecution and returning millions in lost assets.
“Judges can award double or treble damages under the statutes. There is a fee shifting statute to the preponderance of the evidence standard,” Lindsay said. “We have a two year statute of limitations in West Virginia. Judges also have the power to freeze assets, provide injunctive relief, appoint receivers, void contracts or require security be posted.”
Lindsay told lawmakers that creating a state consumer protection penalty and restitution fund would bolster the criminal battle and aid victims in recovery.
“The fund would provide consumer enforcement actions and distribute compensation to eligible consumers and victims,” Lindsay said. “This is something that could be administered by a state agency.”
National studies show elder financial crime victims are twice as likely to die at an earlier age.