Laws Against Taking Advantage of the Elderly
All 50 states have state or federal laws to help protect the elderly being taken advantage of. The laws cover elder abuse, fraudulent crimes and financial exploitation. Learning about your legal protections, and the penalties if these laws are broken, will allow you to protect those at risk.
What Does It Mean to Take Advantage of an Elder?
Taking advantage of an elder refers to abusing, financially exploiting or scamming an adult over 60 years old. According to the National Council on Aging, up to five million older adults are abused and taken advantage of every year.
Harming an older adult — emotionally, physically or financially — can take a serious toll. In some cases, it can endanger lives. Part of planning for your retirement should include learning about elder laws.
State and federal elder laws have legal repercussions and safety measures in place to deter abusers. Unfortunately, it’s typically family members who take advantage of older adults. Other common abusers include spouses and caregivers. Understanding what it means to take advantage of an elder can help you look out for the signs and keep your loved ones safe.
There are six types of elder abuse — physical, sexual, emotional, neglect, financial and abandonment. One in 10 older adults have experienced at least one type of abuse in their lifetime. Those who suffer from memory impairments, like dementia, are typically targeted for abuse.
There are several warning signs that indicate an older adult is being abused. If you notice unexplained physical injuries, drastic personality changes, a withdrawal from activities or friends, unattended medical needs or missing health aids — your loved one may be taken advantage of.
Financial exploitation is stealing, mishandling or illegally withholding an older adult’s funds or property. According to the National Council on Aging, the annual loss of financial exploitation is roughly $36.5 billion.
The most common methods of financial exploitation tactics are intimidating, threatening or deceiving the older adult to give the abuser money. Other types of financial exploitation include altering legal documents and abusing the power of attorney.
Fraud & Scams
Many people target older adults for scams due to their vulnerability. Keep in mind that those committing fraud or scams try to appear trustworthy and kind.
According to AARP, fraud cost Americans $5.8 billion in 2021, with those over 80 years old much more likely to be victimized compared to all other age groups. There are several common scam types to understand.
- Social Security spoofing scam
- If you receive a call to confirm your Social Security number, it is likely a scam. You should never give out your Social Security number. Sometimes scammers will try to intimidate you by saying you will be in trouble if you don’t share the information.
- Internet fraud
- With today’s advanced technology, it’s easy to accidentally download or click on a fake virus program on your computer. If you do download a virus, the scammer can access your personal information. Avoid clicking on email links or pop-ups on your computer to deter internet fraud.
- Grandparent Scam
- In this fraudulent scenario, the scammer will call an older adult and pretend to be the grandparent’s grandchild asking for money. The scammer will tell the grandparent not to tell anyone about the exchange.
- Home repair scam
- If someone knocks on your front door offering a home repair service for upfront payment — it is likely a scam. The scammer will do a mediocre repair and then demand more money afterwards. It’s best to only hire a repair worker with good reviews and references, not a stranger who shows up at your door.
Being taken advantage of is a frightening experience, which can hurt your mental health and make you want to isolate yourself. If you find yourself in an abusive situation, there are resources to help you resecure your funds and be relocated to a safe location if needed.
What Laws Exist to Protect Elders from Being Exploited?
There are federal and state laws to protect elders from exploitation. Federal laws provide coordination to prevent exploitation across the 50 states. State laws vary by each state, with some having more severe legal consequences than others. For example, in some states, elder abuse is a felony.
The two current federal elder justice laws are the Elder Justice Act of 2010 and the Older Americans Act. At the core, they both function to prevent, detect and deter abuse and exploitation of older adults.
- Elder Justice Act of 2010
- The Elder Justice Act defends older adults in several ways, such as requiring immediate reports of elder abuse, legal penalties for elder abuse, data collection on elder abuse, funding to protective services and establishing an advisory board on elder abuse.
- Older Americans Act (OAA)
- The OAA provides services and programs, including caregiver support, protection from elder abuse and home-delivered meals to eligible older adults. The OAA also established the Administration on Aging and funds many health services for seniors.
Elder state laws vary depending on where you live. States with a higher elder population will likely have stricter laws to protect their citizens. The American Bar Association has a list of the elder law statutes for each state.
Some of the more common elder laws across states are the requirements to report abuse and regulations across nursing homes, assisted living, adult day care and retirement communities.
Laws may vary by state when it comes to the qualifications for filing a lawsuit, legal requirements on reporting elder abuse and the priority of trials.
How Do These Laws Protect Elders?
Elder laws protect older adults by setting protections and penalties. If you are over 60 years old, then your safety is secured by elder laws.
Those who abuse or exploit elders can face misdemeanor or felony charges. Remember that federal laws’ legal repercussions are consistent nationwide, and state laws vary depending on where you live.
Elder laws offer protection, such as requiring citizens and facilities to report abuse, offering training programs and providing adult protective services.
Many laws also offer resources to help detect abuse through social and criminal investigations. Older adults can even sue or charge offenders as needed.
Penalties range depending on the crime committed and what state you live in. For example, in California, if you emotionally abuse an older adult, you could be charged with a demeanor, spend six months in county jail and be charged a $1,000 fine.
There are several common penalties and charges for elder abuse and exploitation.
- Jail time
7 Cited Research Articles
- Skiba, K. (2022, February 22). Consumer Fraud Losses Hit Record $5.8 Billion. Retrieved from https://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/info-2022/ftc-fraud-report-new.html
- National Council on Aging. (2021, February 23). Get the Facts on Elder Abuse. Retrieved from https://www.ncoa.org/article/get-the-facts-on-elder-abuse
- The Florida Legislature. (2021). The 2021 Florida Statutes. Retrieved from http://www.leg.state.fl.us/statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&URL=0400-0499/0415/0415.html
- Florida State University. (2019, March 7). Elder Law: Elder Law in Florida. Retrieved from https://guides.law.fsu.edu/c.php?g=539084&p=3690437
- U.S. Department of Justice. (n.d.). Elder Abuse and Elder Financial Exploitation Statutes. Retrieved from https://www.justice.gov/elderjustice/prosecutors/statutes
- State of California Department of Justice. (n.d.). Elder Abuse Laws (Criminal). Retrieved from https://oag.ca.gov/dmfea/laws/crim_elder
- National Center on Elder Abuse. (n.d.). Current Federal Elder Justice Laws. Retrieved from https://ncea.acl.gov/What-We-Do/Policy/Federal-Laws.aspx#:~:text=Enacted%20as%20part%20of%20the,elder%20abuse%2C%20neglect%20and%20exploitation