Financial Elder Abuse
Financial abuse of the elderly is a serious and under-reported problem. Recent studies have estimated the financial loss from such abuses to be over $2.9 billion a year. Fraudsters target elderly people because they control a large portion of our country’s wealth and because, in many cases, declining physical and mental health makes elders particularly vulnerable, trusting and susceptible to financial abuse. In some cases financial predators of the elderly are complete strangers such as dishonest telemarketers. In many cases, however, the abusers are trusted financial advisors or family members who believe they are entitled to their clients’, parents’ or grandparents’ money and find ways to take it. Financial elder abuse may be intentional or simply the result of negligence. Our Firm’s financial elder abuse attorneys have represented many brave elders in disputes to restore their financial security and dignity, and we consistently and adroitly rely upon states’ elder abuse statutes and other laws to protect and vindicate elders’ rights.
Examples of the many disputes our elder financial abuse attorneys have handled over the years on behalf of elderly clients include the following matters:
- Financial Elder Abuse Attorney Representative Case #1: Representation of a large group of elderly customers of a national brokerage firm in a dispute alleging elder financial abuse against a broker affiliated with the firm. Typical of many elder financial abuse cases, the broker in this case engendered the trust and confidence of his elderly customers by making “house calls”, befriending and assisting isolated elders with basic chores, and by promising to always protect the elders’ investment principal and income, which they depended upon to cover basic living expenses. Instead of protecting his elderly clients’ portfolios, however, the broker invested substantially all of his elderly clients’ funds in an extremely risky real estate investment program which was not approved by his firm, solely to generate exorbitant fees and commissions for himself. The investment program ultimately became insolvent, resulting in the complete loss of our elderly clients’ retirement funds invested in the program. On the eve of trial the case resolved on confidential terms.
- Financial Elder Abuse Attorney Representative Case #2: Representation of a 90-year old victim of elder abuse in a dispute against a major U.S. banking institution arising out of the alleged malfeasance of one of the bank’s tellers. The teller befriended the elderly and infirm customer and improperly convinced him to “loan” her a large sum of money while he was conducting a routine banking transaction at her teller window. In the months following his “loan” to the teller, which never was repaid, the elderly client was victimized by a sweepstakes scam operating from the Philippines. The same bank teller involved in the “loan” transaction willingly and knowingly processed over 50 separate wire transfers and check payments from the client’s account to the Philippines in excess of $500,000. After extensive litigation against the bank and its teller in Federal Court, the case was resolved confidentially.
- Financial Elder Abuse Attorney Representative Case #3: Our Managing Partner recently obtained a unique $622,000.00 award after trial against a national financial services institution on behalf of an 86-year old investor. The elderly client requested the firm open a joint account with his wife designated as a “Joint Tenants” account with automatic rights of survivorship. The broker who met the couple and prepared the forms necessary to open the account mistakenly checked a box on the forms designating the account as a “Joint Tenants in Common” account. Tenants in common, however, do not enjoy automatic rights of survivorship so securities held in this form may become involved in protracted probate proceedings upon the death of a co-tenant. The Award is unique, among other reasons, because there is no such thing as a “Joint Tenants in Common” account designation in California, although this term is often erroneously used by the financial services industry in account forms and policies and procedures manuals. The law in California provides that the term “Joint Tenants”, used alone or with any other words, automatically creates a right of survivorship, so a designation as “Joint Tenants in Common” is improper and a highly problematic misnomer. The evidence in this case also proved the broker was not knowledgeable about the types of co-ownership available but proceeded anyway in his negligent haste to manage the elderly couple’s substantial assets. When the wife died a few months later, the firm refused to correct its obvious error and instead blamed the elderly husband who had difficulty understanding the problem. The firm “froze” the elderly husband’s joint account, denied him access to deposit or withdraw funds into or out of the account to meet margin calls (beginning in September 2008, as the worst financial crisis in recent memory unfolded) and proceeded to sell off substantial amounts of quality stocks to pay its own margin calls. The amount awarded to the client was approximately $100,000.00 more than the total compensatory damages requested and included an award of $272,000.00 in legal fees and costs, highly unusual in most FINRA customer cases. Many financial services firms now appear to have taken steps to remove the ambiguous and improper “Joint Tenant In Common” designation from account opening forms.
These are a small sample of the cases in which we pursued enhanced remedies pursuant to States’ Elder Abuse laws on behalf of our elderly clients for financial abuse. California’s Elder Abuse Act entitles victims of financial abuse to recover attorneys’ fees and treble (or triple) the amount of compensatory damages awarded in the case. The remedies available for violations of elder abuse laws vary from State to State. Our Firm’s financial elder abuse attorneys have successfully litigated elder abuse cases under many different States’ Elder Abuse laws and stand ready to vigorously protect our elderly clients wherever they reside