What legal action can be taken after being scammed?

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A myriad of other financial crimes are perpetrated by fraudsters – bogus investment scams, phone and gift card scams, lottery scams, Medicare and Social Security scams and more. There is no limit to the creativity of those who wish to fly.

Scammed by a family member

Sometimes the exploitation comes from our loved ones. Family, friends and caregivers are not immune to skimming a little money here or there for their own purchases, using their care partner’s assets irresponsibly, manipulating their estate plan or just brazenly stealing large sums and thinking no one will notice. Most often, if the victim knows the exploiter, it is a family member.

We are not talking about small amounts of money in most cases. The average amount lost per victim is $34,000. When someone acts as a fiduciary (meaning they use a legal document, like a power of attorney or trust, to access someone’s finances), the number skyrockets to $83,000. The older the victim, the higher the average amount of stolen assets.

Increasingly severe legal sanctions

The law takes these crimes seriously and the penalties for exploiting the elderly are getting tougher. Every state, territory, commonwealth, the District of Columbia, and the federal government all have elder abuse laws that address exploitation. These laws vary from state to state, so procedures and penalties vary accordingly.

No matter where it happens, when it comes to ending fraud and exploitation, time is of the essence. As soon as exploitation is suspected or confirmed, action must be taken. There will be statutes of limitations (laws that say how long authorities must charge someone with a crime). Assets are more likely to be recovered and returned to the victim if they can be located before being spent. And if the exploited person is old and debilitated, their health or cognitive abilities may decline rapidly. They may lose their memory of what happened or become a bad witness, so it’s best to act as quickly as possible.

Injunctions or restraining orders to prevent the scammer from doing more harm can be put in place by a court. A court can issue an injunction even before the suspect gets away with the scam; it may be enough to have proof that the scammer is about to exploit someone. It can also order the scammer to cease all contact with a person, return assets, transfer possession of assets, freeze accounts, suspend lines of credit, and more.

Penalties for exploiting (or attempting to exploit) an older person range from a first degree felony to a third degree, with lengthy mandatory prison sentences. There may be other penalties for wrongdoing, in addition to jail time and restitution. Now in Florida, a person who has scammed, neglected, abused or exploited an elderly or disabled person will not be allowed to inherit their estate upon their death. Fear of forced disinheritance may be enough to deter some from taking advantage of a vulnerable person and their money

Exploitation, in all its forms, happens far more than we know because victims and families don’t report it. When you suspect you or a loved one has fallen prey to a scam or fraud, resist the urge to assign blame or judge the situation. Manipulators and criminals are good at what they do and often go unnoticed. If red flags are up, get organized, be proactive, and step up to help hold wrongdoers accountable.

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