Scams That Target the Elderly

By Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. of Hanlon Niemann & Wright, a Freehold, NJ Elder Abuse Attorney

A recent published New Jersey elder abuse case tells a disturbing story about how an elderly woman lost nearly $350,000 dollars within a few months from a well-orchestrated, yet simple scam. The plaintiff, Margaret Lucca, aged 82, made 27 wire transfers to an individual who called her home and identified himself as a lawyer and gave her information about where to send the money.  Margaret did not know who the caller was or who was actually receiving the money.  In short, she was the victim of a financial scam targeting the vulnerable seniors.

The facts disclose that Margaret was living alone since 2003.  She had no children or siblings.  In 2011, Margaret started receiving phone calls from a person who she did not know.  He said he was a lawyer.  He asked her to take part in a business where she could potentially win some money.  He told her all of the information about who to send the money to, in what amounts, and to what bank accounts.  One person who the money was transferred to was located in Alabama.  The rest of the beneficiaries were located in Costa Rica.  Margaret had no contacts in Alabama or Costa Rica.   Most of these transactions were done at Margaret’s local Wells Fargo branch.  One of the supervisors had told her that she believed Margaret was being scammed, but the Margaret got very angry when she heard this.

Margaret also had a significant amount of money in a jersey shore Federal Credit Union.  Virginia Williams, the CEO of this company, had Margaret sign a document at the bank when Margaret indicated she intended to transfer almost $30,000 dollars to a bank in Costa Rica.  The document Margaret signed was titled “Jersey Shore Federal Credit union Scam/Fraud Awareness” document.  This document was explained to Margaret and Margaret still did not change her mind about going through with the transfers.

Eventually, Wells Fargo filed a report with the internal elder abuse department after every wire transfer (after the fourth transfer of $27,000).

Once Margaret’s niece and nephew heard about all of these wire transfers and explained to her what was happening, Margaret finally believed she was scammed.  Margaret brought suit against Wells Fargo alleging they had breached a duty they owed to her to report this suspected fraudulent activity to the authorities.  The issue that the court had to address was whether Wells Fargo had a duty to report the suspected fraud to the authorities pursuant to N.J.S.A. 17:16T1-1 to 4.  Ultimately, the court found that the statute does not create a duty on the bank to report suspected abuse against elders.  The statute was created as an affirmative defense for banks to use in suits precisely like this one.  Banks have to respect the privacy of its clients and the statute merely encourages banks to report possibly fraudulent activities.

N.J.S.A. 17:16T1-4(b) gives a bank a safe harbor when it decides “in good faith not to disclose information that it is permitted to disclose under this act regarding the account relationship of a senior or vulnerable customer. . . “If the bank acts in good faith, it “shall not be liable under any law or regulation or common law of this State for the decision.  This creates an affirmative defense for the bank, not a cause of action for the bank’s customer.”

If you believe a declining senior citizen has been defrauded by one of these scams, contact an attorney that is experienced and knowledgeable in the field of elder financial abuse and exploitation law.

To discuss your NJ Elder Abuse matter, please contact Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. toll-free at (855) 376-5291 or email him at fniemann@hnlawfirm.com.  Please ask us about our video conferencing consultations if you are unable to come to our office.