“A lifetime of generosity can also make seniors prey to phony charity pitches”.
Financial abuse of elders is on the rise, says veteran San Francisco prosecutor Alan Kennedy, an Assistant District Attorney in the office of District Attorney Kamala Harris. Kennedy heads the office’s Elder Abuse Unit. Both anecdotally and statistically, he said, the financial bilking of seniors has increased markedly in the past three to four years. And, he predicts, it’s going to get worse if for no other reason than demographics. “Starting in 2011 there will be a huge group of people becoming elders.”
California seniors are particularly attractive to perpetrators.
“The assets of California seniors, and particularly those in the Bay Area, are so great,” especially the value of their biggest asset, their homes. Factor in the isolation of many seniors, loneliness, the greater trust they have in their fellow man, con man or not, declining health or disability, and seniors are more vulnerable.
“Scams have been around since the beginning of time, but it’s safe to say that a lot of seniors who are victimized live alone. There’s nobody in the family to act as interference, to investigate, to protect the senior,” Kennedy said.
Seniors victimized by a family member may not want to prosecute, to put his or her son in prison. They think, ‘I brought him into the world, if he turned out bad it’s my fault but he’s my child.’” If a caregiver is involved, the senior may realize she’s been taken advantage of, but also feel dependent on the caregiver.
A lifetime of generosity can also make seniors prey to phony charity pitches. And a weakness for gambling can leave them vulnerable to a range of lottery and related get-rich-quick scams. “People who perpetrate these crimes are very astute,” Kennedy adds. “They pick their victims carefully. They have ways of targeting these people.”
Age and infirmity can make elder abuse cases difficult to prosecute, Kennedy said. Fraud cases can take a long time to take to trial.
In addition, the 1st District Court of Appeal last year overturned the conviction of a San Mateo County lawyer who had befriended a mentally incompetent man and used “undue influence” in order to help himself to more than $600,000 over the course of several years. The appellate panel, while agreeing that “undue influence” had been exerted, ruled that “undue influence” is too ambiguous a conduct for jury instruction, likening it to “over persuasion.”
And some people become too infirm — or die — before their cases ever make it to trial.
What would help?
“A legislative change that would allow us to do video conferences by making motions to the court,” Kennedy said. Such two-way video linkups — complete with judge, defendant, defense counsel and prosecutor — would enable interviews with victims to be taped anywhere, on the other side of the country or at a hospital bedside, and give the victim a crack at justice down the line, when he may have no voice.