As the population grays and gets older, longtime estate planning attorney Samuel B. Ledwitz is concerned that too many people are trying to take advantage of this nation’s senior citizens.
And he wants to remind you that harming these folks in any way is a crime.
“Let’s say a person were to steal from you and you were older than 65,” said Ledwitz, president and managing partner of estate planning law firm The Law Firm of Bezaire, Ledwitz and Associates. “That’s financial elder abuse. The penal code gets a little angry at perpetrators when someone who is wronged is 65 and older.”
Ledwitz said it is unfortunate that many want to try to trick seniors out of their money, and even more unfortunate that many are successful in doing so.
“Seniors are seen as more defenseless,” he said. “They can’t stand up for themselves. Personally, 65 years old is at that point, but my clients who are 80 or 85 years old, they’re competent, but they might not be as savvy and up to speed as younger folks are with scams. They come from a different time. They’re not as computer literate.”
He added that age sometimes makes you more vulnerable in the eyes of those perpetrating crimes.
“Seniors are amazing people, but their cognitive ability could be slowing down,” Ledwitz said. “And these perpetrators and predators know this. So, if one person victimizes you, they put you on a list so all of these people can victimize you. It becomes never ending.”
The main way seniors get hurt financially is through scams, Ledwitz said, adding some of the more common scams are the Nigerian bank account scam, the Australian lottery and also the Canadian (or Mexican) grandson scam.
“These are all well-known scams,” he said. “But if you fall for it, the next guy calls you and says, ‘Hey! I have a new scam for you!’”
And through the years Ledwitz said he has seen dozens of seniors fall victim to scams, often costing them thousands of dollars, in addition to a plethora of embarrassment.
“I had one lady come in my office who was out something like $250,000 with the Australian lottery scam,” he said. “First of all, Australia does have a lottery — but you have to actually buy a ticket to win. But somehow, even though you didn’t buy a ticket, you won. You won something like $10 million. But there’s the scam that they want you to fall for, it goes like this: Australia has a tax for non-citizens that needs to be paid before you can collect the winnings and it can’t come out of the winnings. And in this case it’s just $250,000. So, if you could wire this to the crooks, as soon as it clears, we’ll send you the $10 million. My client, who was in her 80s, sent over $250,000. Shockingly, the $10 million never appeared.”
Ledwitz said on that occasion, as on many, he had to be the bearer of bad news.
“I, unfortunately, had to tell her that she was a victim of a felony, of financial elder abuse,” he said. “And I recommended she call law enforcement. We needed to call the FBI. They have special agents assigned to combat scams.”
And because of the way technology has enabled scammers to work, they’re not going away anytime soon.
“If you’re a scammer and you make 100 calls a day, if just one comes through, you’ve definitely had a good day,” he said. “You’ve made thousands of dollars. They only have to be slightly good to make a fortune.”
Elder abuse isn’t always financial, Ledwitz said. Sometimes it’s physical.
“Elder law also covers abuse,” he said. “Let’s say you live in a nursing home and you have bed sores as the staff is neglecting you. We need to get you from that facility to another facility, file the negligence claims, maybe suing the facility and the workers. That’s all covered under elder abuse law. Sometimes they’re criminal complaints, sometimes they’re civil.”
If you suspect a senior in your life is a victim of some type of elder abuse, Ledwitz said the good news is that the law is very supportive in helping you.
“The court is very sympathetic to an elderly person being victimized,” he said. “They will bend over a bit for you, but you do need to have enough evidence.”
Persons who would like to discuss any aspect of a proper estate plan can call The Law Firm of Bezaire, Ledwitz and Associates at (626) 398-0100 or log onto www.SmartEstatePlans.com.