Financial Exploitation of Elderly - Stetson Law

05/21/07 Seán Kinane
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Investigating and Prosecuting Financial Exploitation of an Elderly Victim - Stetson Law

Seán Kinane  May 21, 2007

 Today at the Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport a program was held called “Investigating and Prosecuting Financial Exploitation of an Elderly Victim” It provided training for law enforcement and social services providers and was sponsored by Governor Charlie Crist, Stetson Law, and the Florida Dept. of Law Enforcement. WMNF’s Seán Kinane has more.

 Florida Lieutenant Governor Jeff Kottkamp introduced today’s program that described examples of financial scams aimed at elder victims. He pointed out that in the last five to ten years, criminals are learning how to better target the elderly.

“The criminals behind fraud have become more and more sophisticated. They have learned that an easy target happens to be our elderly who for a variety of reasons, particularly because of the generation that they came from, the generation they’re a part of, their backgrounds, our senior citizens tend to be far more trusting than our generation.”

 Steve Grenier is the Florida Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud.  He said that when someone tries to convince an elderly person to make a financial investment, it should be carefully scrutinized.

If you’re there as a caretaker or someone who is intervening in the affairs of an elderly person, annuities, and life insurance and any kind of financial investment is something that you need to keep an eye on. It’s a red flag. Anytime somebody wants to get in the pocketbook of an elderly person, is huge red flag.”

 Grenier gave some examples of how people can entice elders into fraudulent investments.

“This is how every investment scam against an elderly person takes place: Free lunch or dinner. What elderly person doesn’t want to go to a free lunch or dinner? Do you know any? No. Advertising, trust mills, no risk, high return, beat the stock market.”

 Laura Royal is a certified fraud examiner with the Tampa Office of Financial Regulation. She spoke about two common types of fraud aimed at the elderly, Securities Fraud and Mortgage fraud.

“If they [investor] hadn’t been told something they should have been told, like the company was in bankruptcy, the person running the company had a felony, if that’s material misrepresentations or omissions, it’s real simple to prosecute. Securities fraud is pretty black and white, if the investor didn’t know or should have known, and it made a difference to them, not what I think and not what you think, but to that investor. That can be securities fraud.”

 Mortgage fraud is another serious problem, especially with the trend toward what are called “no doc” or “low doc” mortgages where documentation of the income of the person obtaining the mortgage is not required, as Royal explains.

“That is just open-target season for mortgage fraud. All you do is say what your income is supposed to be, the broker will tell you what it needs to be, put it on the application, it doesn’t have to be verified. The loans are totally based on your credit score and the equity on your home. When you see those roadside signs on the little two-post and they go: We’ll buy your home for cash, in foreclosure, credit repair. Either pull them out of the ground, bring them to me, or send them to me, take a picture of them, give me the information off of them, because it’s certainly going to be an unlicensed person, I would think doing them that’s also a set-up for a mortgage fraud scheme.”

 Most foreclosures are a caused by mortgage fraud, according to Ted Padich who is with the Florida Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud.

“Guaranteed that most of those are due to fraud. People that shouldn’t have gotten loans, homes are foreclosed on; their homes are vacant. Broken windows theory of policing. You get two houses on a block that that are in disrepair and abandoned, they become vandalized, the kids smash out the windows, the lawn, quality of life goes down, and pretty soon, there are cities in the State of Florida whose tax base is going to be affected by mortgage fraud. If the tax base is affected, your salaries are affected.”

 Even though financial scams that target elders are often criminal violations, they are time consuming and expensive to investigate so law enforcement agencies usually prefer to put time and resources into the investigation of blue-collar rather than these white-collar crimes.

“There’s no resource balance in most of our agencies, including mine. We’ll expend huge amounts of resources on a purse-snatch, I’m not talking a strong-armed robbery; I’m talking a purse-snatch, purse snatch at the mall.  Cars go, officers go, if you’ve got a helicopter, that’s going, saturation patrol, bolos, drawings, it’s just amazing how much we put into a purse-snatch at the mall.”

 The Dean of Stetson University’s College of Law, Darby Dickerson, pointed out that the courtroom in which this program took place is the first elder-friendly courtroom in the country.

“The Eleazer courtroom is the first and to date, I’m sad to say, only elder-friendly, barrier-free access courtroom in the United States. We’re very happy though that people who design actual courtrooms have been coming to see this wonderful facility. So we hope that in the near future we’ll see more and more courtrooms where everyone, regardless of who they are, can have true and full access.”

 The Stetson College of Law has two upcoming seminars on avoiding investment scams, on May 31 and June 7. For more information, call their Elder Consumer Protection Project at 727-562-7800, extension 7715.

 For WMNF News, reporting from Gulfport, I’m Seán Kinane



Department of Financial Services




Florida Office of Financial Regulation



Stetson University College of Law  

Florida Bureau of Unclaimed Property 

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