Abuse of power of attorney documents in growing elder fraud crime wave

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- Elder abuse and fraud can hit people at many levels of society.

Photo: Pixabay / MGN

For example, the 95-year-old multimillionaire creator of the Marvel comic franchise, Stan Lee, is involved in an ugly, high-profile elder fraud case, where millions are missing from his accounts.

But a person does not have to be a millionaire to be the victim of a scam or fraud.

Locally, Doris Gelbman specializes in elder law, and she describes her first experience with elder fraud, which involved a family member.

"He was exploited because he had good credit, somebody came and got him to sign over his house, he got a mortgage on his house and the money was turned over to a cousin and that was the first experience I had, I was shocked," she said.

And it was certainly not the last case for Gelbman, who says the biggest offenders are family.

"Adult children of exploited people, it's nine times out of 10 a family member who's taking advantage of their own parent," she explained.

She says it's getting so bad, sometimes adult children are fighting each other over control of the ailing parents' finances.

"You have a war between people who are trying to take good care and someone who is trying to exploit the elderly person," said Gelbman. "And it may not be a family member. It could be anybody and it's not always under the color of power of attorney."

And that's where things get legally sticky for attorneys and family members.

A power of attorney over an elderly person is designed for the good of the individual who can't make decisions for themselves, but in the wrong hands, Gelbman says it could be a financial disaster.

"The person who has been granted authority to make transactions under color of power of attorney, they have pretty much been given the keys to the castle, and get away with pretty much anything they want," she said.

She says she has seen terrible examples of family members taking advantage of their elders.

"I have had one for $50,000, one that is $300,000 with the potential for more," said Gelbman.

According to Albemarle County Assistant Commonwealths Attorney Kari Munro, the results of this kind of theft can be devastating, with the taxpayer sometimes picking up the tab.

"The Department of Social Services works regularly with individuals who have been victimized in this way and can't recover financially and have all of their savings wiped out by this type of fraud," said Munro.

Experts say elder fraud is the fastest growing crime in the country.

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