Elder scams the next big financial crime

It was a story that had anything but a Hollywood ending: Eunice Bellah, the widow of the late Oscar-nominated television and art director Ross Bellah, was swindled by someone she trusted. According to news reports, Bellah’s longtime tax accountant, Aron Shalain, put her in a nursing home, took ownership of her house, and listed every one of her possessions on Craigslist before he allegedly fled the country. Her family was powerless to fight his actions, but has since sought legal action.

As Deadline reported in 2015:

“Everything” includes the mansion on Mount Olympus where Shlain’s ex-wife now lives and the expensive jewelry he says he bought her with the money he stole. Much of the rest of the money he stole was either squandered on his lavish lifestyle or lost in the stock market — or so he says.”

Financial abuse of the elderly is set to become a defining fraud of the next several decades; it’s the easiest scam out there, authorities say. Seniors have assets. And money. They usually own their homes. Combine that with issues like dementia and other health problems, and they are easy targets.

Many elderly men and women, if they even know they are being swindled, are unlikely to come forward. They are embarrassed, feel naive or stupid, and fear their adult children or other relatives will deem them unfit to do anything for themselves. Others aren’t even aware anything is wrong because those closest to them, people they love and trust, are committing the crimes. Even scammers from other countries are smart enough to manipulate an older person with the use of a family member – the Grandparent scam comes to mind – and thus they get away with it before anyone knows what is happening.

It’s hard to gauge how much money is stolen from seniors every year, because it’s so underreported.  At the low end, the elderly are taken for $2.9 billion annually, but that is likely “the tip of the iceberg,” Consumer Reports wrote.

At the high end men and women over the age of 65 lose an astonishing $36.48 billion annually in fraud by people they know and strangers on the phone. Either way, it’s a shocking, discouraging crime. Talk to a trusted elder care attorney about ways to protect yourself today.

Our experienced and trusted estate planning attorneys have been serving Treasure Coast families for decades, and Michael Fowler is one of only nine attorneys in the state of Florida who is double board-certified in wills trusts and estates and in elder law.  Contact us for your initial consultation at one of our conveniently located offices in Fort Pierce, Stuart, Port St. Lucie, Vero Beach, and Okeechobee.

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