Our society must make it right and possible for old people not to fear the young or be deserted by them, for the test of a civilization is the way that it cares for its helpless members.
-- Pearl S. Buck
Recently I was saddened and shocked to learn that a dear friend some 30 years my senior had been defrauded of a lifetime of retirement savings--everything but the house to which my friend’s family had moved during the Eisenhower administration. Shortly after the death of my friend’s last immediate family member, my friend was targeted, threatened, harassed and then defrauded. More than a half century of savings and pension benefits relied upon to support a comfortable retirement were gone in a few days’ time. Even though the scam was discovered fairly quickly, less than 7% can be recovered. My friend was lucky to preserve the family home.
I was shocked because my friend has always been keenly intelligent, sophisticated and fiercely independent. I couldn’t fathom that such a bright, witty, worldly-wise individual had been scammed. And I was shocked because despite my awareness of the growing epidemic of elder fraud in our community, it never occurred to me to reach out to this person. The scammers are professionals who cast a wide net for solid and successful elders who, like my friend, may be grief-stricken or otherwise vulnerable to intimidation and are likely to be too humiliated when confronted by purported tax and other errors of which scammers accuse them to reach out for help. Scammers make easy assumptions about their victims and seem to “know” a great deal about them to bolster their credibility. And they count on others to be too polite and respectful of the privacy of their elders—particularly with respect to financial matters—to offer help or even raise the topic without being asked. Some of us fear that such a gesture may be mistaken for snooping or bad manners or worse—opportunism. Do it anyway! Raise the topic of scammers who pose as tax collectors, law enforcement, banking or service providers with whom your older friends deal. Even when elderly victims are not perceptibly frail or failing in mind or body, they can be vulnerable at times just the same.
Enter the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office’s Special Prosecutions Division and Crimes Against Seniors and Vulnerable Adults Unit. This Unit has expertise specific to crimes like the one committed against my friend, and works with specially trained Montgomery County Police detectives to investigate and prosecute scammers. Program Manager Kelly Davis will work with attorneys to put them in touch with MCP personnel to investigate and take action (including the issuance of warrants to recover any funds that can be located) immediately when such a crime has occurred. The State’s Attorney’s Office has published a helpful brochure describing the work of this Unit.
In addition to law enforcement resources, the Aging and Disability Resource Unit of the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services provides general—yet personalized—assistance to seniors, persons with disabilities and caregivers. The Unit not only offers referrals, but it helps those in need to determine their eligibility and to apply for services. Its staffers are on duty covering phones, meeting with clients at senior and community centers, and even making home visits and conducting other outreach activities.
On a related note, after helping my friend I saw a posting on the MSBA Criminal Law Section listserv seeking advice on obtaining screening dispositions of crimes committed by seniors—perhaps due to the onset of depression, dementia or some other psychological or physiological issue. Unbeknownst to me at the time, these crimes are all too common. Also unbeknownst to me, the DHHS Area Agency on Aging and our State’s Attorney’s Office are part of a working group formed months ago to address this issue and others. Just this month County Executive Ike Leggett joins the group to kick off Montgomery County’s Dementia Friendly America Initiative. For contact and additional information, consult the County Government section of our BAMC Membership Directory for the State’s Attorney’s Office and Health and Human Services listings, the DHHS Unit webpage (with links to numerous publications and other helpful resources at https://www.montgomerycountymd.gov/HHSProgram/Program.aspx?id=ADS/ADSADSResourceUnit-p179.html), or call Mary Jo Broussard Speier or Morris Klein, Co-chairs of the Bar Foundation’s Elder Law Section. Their contact information appears in the front of this newsletter.
Finally, in an effort to keep our senior and retired members connected and continuing to enjoy the benefits of BAMC membership, a few of them have suggested forming a Senior Lawyers’ group or section. Your Executive Committee enthusiastically supports this idea—why should Young Lawyers have all the fun? We will explore the best approach in coming months, as we continue to fill in details of a Strategic Plan that is steadily taking shape.