New Hampshire has an aging population, and financial exploitation of elders has grown in recent years. Nationally, billions of dollars are stolen every year from seniors. This exploitation is not limited to phone and internet scams by strangers. A vulnerable adult can be exploited by family members, friends, neighbors, and caregivers.
In an attempt to address this problem, the New Hampshire Legislature recently expanded RSA 631:9, the law that criminalizes financial exploitation of the elderly. The law, which was first enacted in 2015, makes it a crime to use undue influence, duress, force, compulsion, or coercion to take property from elderly, disabled, or impaired adults. Effective January of 2019, the law now also makes it a crime for a person to take property from vulnerable adults when the person knows or should know that that adult lacks the capacity to consent. The law was changed to prevent people from claiming that they were not aware that a person was vulnerable.
Part of the difficulty in preventing elder exploitation is that vulnerable adults often suffer in silence. New Hampshire has a mandatory reporting law that requires any person who has a good faith suspicion that a vulnerable adult has been subjected to abuse, neglect, self-neglect, exploitation, or hazardous living conditions to report that suspicion to local police or to the Bureau of Elderly and Adult Services (BEAS). If the report has a factual basis and is not frivolous, the Bureau is required to initiate an investigation within 72 hours.
We all need to be vigilant to ensure that our family, friends, and neighbors are not exploited. The BEAS website provides information and resources regarding signs of abuse, steps family members can take to prevent or stop abuse, and steps older adults can take to protect themselves.
Signs that an elderly person is being financially exploited include: sudden changes in personality, sudden changes in financial situation, such as an inability to pay bills or buy food, lack of knowledge about personal finances, and conflicting stories about personal finances. Frequent visits, careful listening, observation, and talking with elderly persons in private are a great way to prevent or detect elder exploitation.
Other resources include trusted family members or lawyers, local police, the Elder Abuse and Financial Exploitation Unit of the Attorney General’s Office, and the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit of the Attorney General’s Office. Additionally, with an elderly person’s authority, bank officers can be helpful in investigating the person’s finances and detecting suspicious transactions.
Hopefully, increased awareness of elder exploitation, the amendments to New Hampshire’s laws, and the increased willingness of BEAS and the Attorney General’s Office to prosecute persons who prey upon vulnerable adults will help curb this growing problem in New Hampshire.
By: Brendan A. O’Donnell, Esq.