Minnesota’s elderly population will double in the coming decades. A growing concern with the rising amount of elderly Minnesotans is protecting them from financial exploitation. Financial exploitation is the misuse or taking of assets from a vulnerable adult through deceptive methods, coercion, or without legal authority. Financial exploitation is categorized as either exploitation done by third parties, those the vulnerable adult does not know, or, familial exploitation – exploitation done by those the adult has a relationship with in some way. The best prevention for elderly adults is to be proactive and discuss financial planning with a lawyer, a financial planner, or several trusted family members.
Third parties that exploit the elderly can do so in a variety of methods. Third party exploitation can be low-level scams or done by professional companies and can occur in-person, over the phone, or through the internet. The most common scams to watch out for are:
Luckily, most schemes from third parties can be prevented if elderly persons are watchful and skeptical of these methods and persons. Elderly persons should only seek services from reputable contractors and other professionals and not respond to solicitation from unknown persons. Before giving assets or personal information elderly persons should talk to a professional, such as a lawyer or financial planner, and discuss the decision with several trusted family members. Elderly persons should never sign a document relating to billing, transferring money, or containing personal information if they do not understand it. Most importantly, elderly persons should always ask for more information and verify sources.
Minnesota law does provide a remedy for vulnerable adults who are victims of third party financial exploitation. Under Minn. Stat. § 325F. 71 an exploited elderly person can bring a civil action against those who having taken their assets through deceptive practices. Further, Minnesota has separate claims which can also be brought for false advertising, consumer fraud, and deceptive trade practices. Additionally, if the elderly person is in a nursing home, receives in-home care, or does not receive proper social security or SSI payments for care, they may recover under Minn. Stat § 626.557 for certain instances of financial exploitation. Lastly, Minn. Stat. § 609.2335 provides criminal penalties for those who exploit elderly persons.
Unfortunately, the majority of financial exploitation is done by people the elderly person knows. These exploiters are family members, friends, neighbors, caretakers, and others. These people can also be the least expected persons including professionals. Some common methods that these persons use to exploit elderly persons are:
Elderly persons should remain reasonably skeptical of all persons in a position to exploit them. If an elderly person believes a person close to them is exploiting them, they should talk to several other people they feel they can trust.
Disappointingly, conservators, who are granted access to an elderly person’s assets by the court, can still exploit elderly persons. Minnesota court workers in charge of auditing conservatorships have discovered $875 million dollars of financial exploitation from the elderly since 2012. The auditors recognize that one out of ten conservatorships have accounting issues which require a judge’s review. Fortunately, Minnesota has the only mandatory reporting system for conservators called MyMNConservator which requires conservators to submit financial reports to be audited.
Minnesota law also provides protection for elderly persons exploited by a person they know. Under Minn. Stat. 626.557 a person who has a fiduciary obligation to an elderly person is liable for their exploitation of the elderly person. Likewise, under Minn. Stat. § 609.2335 breaches of fiduciary duty to an elderly person can submit the person to criminal liability.
If you think you are a victim you should contact the local police department or the county attorney’s office in the county which you live. Additionally, you can call the Minnesota Board on Aging's Senior LinkAge Line at 1-800-333-2433.
There are several signs an elderly person is experiencing financial exploitation: