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Crimes involving elderly victims who lose their life savings to investment scams or financial fraud schemes are a growing trend in the United States. Sadly, many elderly victims are often too confused, fearful, or embarrassed by the crime to report it to law enforcement. A study conducted by New York City and Cornell University released last year showed just one in 44 cases were officially reported in that state.
In many instances, the perpetrator of the crime is not stranger, but rather a family member or trusted caregiver. A recent editorial calling for tougher laws to protect seniors from becoming victims of elder abuse tells the story of 90-year-old Matt Pollack, who had saved more than $600,000 over his lifetime so that he could live out his life in the comfort of his home in Niagara County, New York.
Instead, Pollack was forced into assisted living because Kenneth Heitzenrater – someone Pollack trusted as a son – swindled him out of his life savings. Heitzenrater, who should have gone to jail for his crime, was sentenced to probation in an effort to force him to work to pay restitution.
Then there’s the case of 81-year-old Adeline Cisneroz. The San Jose mother of five, grandmother of 12, and great-grandmother of six had lived alone since her second husband passed away 15 years ago. Her plan was to live out her golden years peacefully and comfortably after saving thousands of dollars “for any emergency that might come up.”
Cisneroz’ emergencies never materialized, but her money nonetheless disappeared at the hands of a beloved family member. As reported in December 2012 by NBC Bay Area, Cisneroz’ nightmare began when the granddaughter asked to stay in Cisneroz’ San Jose home. Cisneroz happily complied but quickly became worried when her polite houseguest/granddaughter turned into an indignant host and told Cisneroz, “It’s my house now.”
“That’s when I started checking with the bank,” says Cisneroz. The 81-year-old discovered that money in all three of her bank accounts was gone – $85,000. As it turns out, the granddaughter had shown a medical insurance agent that she held power of attorney before cashing out her grandmother’s medical policies.
Cisneroz’ granddaughter eventually pleaded guilty to felony elder abuse and was sentenced to eight months in county jail and ordered to pay more than $50,000 in restitution.
For Cisneroz, the betrayal of a trusted family member is compounded by the harsh reality of being forced to live from one Social Security check to the next.
“Elder financial abuse is becoming the crime of the 21st century,” says Denise Voigt Crawford, past president of the North American Securities Administrators Association. The group estimates that one of out every five citizens over the age of 65 has been a victim of some type of financial scam.