Brooklyn Boro

Volunteer Lawyers Project looking to help seniors targeted in financial scams

October 18, 2018 By Victoria Bekiempis Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Presentation participants, from left to right, included Catherine Christian, Deborah Holt-Knight, Deirdre Lok, Sarah Filcher and Sara Bovill. Photo by Victoria Bekiempis
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The Brooklyn Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project (VLP) held a panel at Abrams Fensterman on Tuesday to help attorneys better identify when seniors are victims of abuse, largely focusing on financial crime.

The continuing legal education (CLE) seminar also aimed at giving lawyers an overview of how legal and ethical issues impact older adults, including homeowners, organizers said.

One widely reported statistic discussed during the panel estimated that financial abuse costs senior citizens some $3 billion per year. Another statistic mentioned during the panel puts that number at $36 billion.

The panelists included Sara Bovill and Sarah Filcher, both staff attorneys at the Brooklyn Volunteer Lawyers Project’s foreclosure prevention unit; Deirdre Lok, assistant director and general counsel at the Weinberg Center for Elder Justice for the Hebrew Home at Riverdale; Catherine Christian, elder abuse unit bureau chief at the New York County District Attorney’s Office; and Deborah Holt-Knight, deputy commissioner at Adult Protective Services.

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“It’s to bring awareness to the issue of the financial abuse of the elderly, and the different forms it takes,” Christian told the Brooklyn Eagle of the forum. “In my office, we have people who are victims who live in NYCHA and people who live in Sutton Place — the millionaire to the poor woman living on Social Security.”

Christian said that abusers and fraudsters might target seniors because of perceptions about their finances.

“Why do people rob banks?  Because that’s where the money is,” Christian said.  “If they think about it, most seniors get Social Security.”

Popular cons include the “grandparent scam.”  In the grandparent scam, a senior might receive a phone call from someone claiming to be his or her grandchild. The caller, who is not a relative, might tell the victim over the phone, “Hello, grandpa/ma, I’m in trouble. Please don’t tell mom,” and demand that money be sent. 

On the topic of foreclosure, Filcher said that seniors are by no means immune because of false notions that older adults are financially stable.

“There’s this misconception that you age out of foreclosure,” Filcher said. Many think that “at a certain point, you have bought a home and 30 years later, you’re living off your nest egg.”

Many seniors, Filcher said, have some sort of “home-secured” debt — that is, their home comprises at least some of the collateral.

“This is a population that’s struggling to age in place,” Filcher said.  “Any time you’re carrying home-secured debt, there’s risk of foreclosure, unfortunately.”

Scammers, Filcher said, may falsely tell homeowning seniors with debt that there is an “imminent auction” to coerce them into selling their property for less than market value.

“We’ve even see people go so far as to chase homeowners down into their hospital rooms to pressure them” Filcher said.

Attorneys who participated in Tuesday’s forum received two CLE credits. In addition, for every two hours of qualifying pro bono work, experienced attorneys can receive additional CLE credit.

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