Elder Financial Abuse – Do I Have a Claim?

Oregon has strong protections for investors against fraud with our state blue sky securities laws.  The Investor Defenders attorneys at Samuels Yoelin Kantor LLP have deep experience with litigating securities cases to recover investment losses cause by financial advisor misconduct.

We also handle elder financial abuse claims. Sometimes those claims relate to securities, like a registered investment advisor mishandling an investment account, or an unlicensed person unlawfully selling investments.  But financial abuse of our seniors and other vulnerable persons can take many other forms

Under Oregon Law, an “elderly person” is anyone age 65 or older.  ORS 124.100(3).

Financial “abuse” includes “[w]rongfully taking or appropriating money or property, or knowingly subjecting an elderly person or person with a disability to alarm by conveying a threat to wrongfully take or appropriate money or property, which threat reasonably would be expected to cause the elderly person or person with a disability to believe that the threat will be carried out.”  ORS 124.100(1)(g).

The civil penalties are significant for abusers and persons who have “permitted” another to engage in the abuse.  The statutes allow recovery of three times all economic and noneconomic damages, and reasonable attorney fees incurred by the plaintiff.  ORS 124.100(2).

Samuels Yoelin Kantor LLP is one of the few firms in Oregon with equally strong estate planning attorneys and fiduciary litigation attorneys, who have the experience to recognize the signs of potential elder financial abuse, and know how to bring claims for victims of abuse.  Many of our attorneys are licensed in both Oregon and Washington, and litigate claims in both states.

Who can bring a claim under Oregon’s financial elder abuse statute?   The elder, a guardian, conservator, or attorney-in-fact for the elder, a personal representative for a decedent who was an elder at the time of the abuse, or a trustee for a trust on behalf of the trustor or spouse of the trustor who is an elder.  ORS 124.100(3).

The National Adult Protective Services Association reports that 90% of financial abusers are family members or trusted others.  And financial abuse is vastly under-reported: it is estimated that only one in 44 cases are reported to state protective services.

What are some common forms of financial abuse?   Misuse of a Power of Attorney or joint bank account, overcharging for services, or improperly transfer title to property.  Outright threats to abandon unless the victim complies with the abuser’s demands can by itself be financial elder abuse.

What are some warning signs of abuse?

  • An unexplained withdrawal, transfer, credit card charge, or payments that are unusual, or don’t otherwise fit with the explanation.
  • The elder is not given an opportunity to speak for themselves without the presence of a particular care giver, family member, or anyone else suspected of abuse.
  • The elder is extremely withdrawn, defensive, not communicative, or unresponsive. Victims frequently feel shame and embarrassment.
  • Unpaid bills, overdue rent, utility shut-off notices.

If you suspect a senior loved one may have been or is being financially abused, the attorneys at Samuels Yoelin Kantor can help.  Contact us to speak with an experienced fiduciary litigator who understands financial elder abuse claims in Oregon and Washington.

Darlene PasiecznyDarlene Pasieczny’s practice at Samuels Yoelin Kantor LLP focuses on all stages of corporate and securities law issues, securities litigation and FINRA arbitration, fiduciary litigation in trust and estate disputes, elder financial abuse, and complex civil litigation. Darlene’s practice includes representing investors nationwide in investment disputes through FINRA arbitration.

Mediation and FINRA Arbitration

Why mediate? What is mediation? Why do it in FINRA arbitration?

Simply put, mediation is a voluntary process by which disputing parties agree to negotiate with a professional referee – a neutral mediator – to try to settle a dispute. Settlement means resolving a case before incurring further time, costs, and the risk of losing when taking a case to trial or arbitration hearing, where a judge, jury or arbitrator makes the final, binding decisions.

I represent investors in FINRA arbitration and in court, in disputes with the financial industry.  Securities claims against stockbrokers and their firms are typically litigated in FINRA arbitration because there are pre-dispute arbitration clauses in just about every brokerage account agreement.  FINRA rules also provide that an investor may always choose to file claims against a broker or brokerage firm in FINRA arbitration.  FINRA IM-12000.

Arbitration is very different than mediation.  State laws provide the legal framework for arbitration as a binding alternative to trying a case in court.  An arbitration hearing may seem like a mini-trial:  you have one or more arbitrators in place of a judge and jury, you have opening and closing statements, present witness testimony and evidence, and submit briefs on legal issues.  At the end of the the process, the arbitrator or panel of arbitrators issues a binding arbitration decision and award.  A party may take that arbitration award to a court for confirmation as a judgment.  Once the award is entered in the court record as a judgment, the winning party is a judgment creditor and may use that state’s creditor laws to enforce and collect the award.  FINRA arbitration is a specialized forum with its own procedural code and discovery rules – a forum I know very well.

Mediation, on the other hand, is an entirely voluntary process, and a mediator makes no binding decisions that the parties must follow.  Parties can choose to mediate at any time – before a case is filed, or anytime during the case, with strategic decisions when mediation may be the most successful, such as after the exchange of discovery in a case.  State law provides that settlement discussions in the context of mediation are confidential and generally may not be used as evidence in a case.  So, if a mediation session does not result in a settlement agreement, neither side may use what was said or settlement offer dollar amounts exchanged during the mediation against the other side in the related court case or arbitration proceeding.   That’s because we want to encourage good faith negotiation during mediation.

If the parties come to settlement agreement during the mediation, the mediator, or one of the parties, will typically put at least the material terms of the agreement into writing while the parties are still present.  A good mediator will encourage this:  after hours of back-and-forth negotiation, no one wants to go home and get a message that the other side has “buyer’s remorse,” or denies coming to an agreement, and then have to litigate to enforce the settlement.

For my clients in FINRA arbitration, I often recommend trying a mediation session. Why?  The risks are small, and it can be a smart investment.  The parties typically share the cost of hiring a mediator, it’s non-binding, and we prepare as if preparing for the arbitration hearing. I use the time to refine my client’s case, learn about the strengths and weaknesses of respondent’s case, and have a kind of dress rehearsal of testimony – all while still negotiating in good faith towards a settlement.  So, even if a mediation does not immediately result in settlement, we are all better prepared for the hearing.

In a FINRA arbitration case, you want a securities attorney to help you select a FINRA arbitration panel and steer your case through the process, from legal analysis and damages calculations, through filing the statement of claim and discovery, to representing you at the hearing.  When mediating a securities case, you want a securities attorney experienced in mediation to help choose a mediator and stay by your side with analysis of the situation and recommendations during negotiation.  For both arbitration and mediation: these are not trials in courtrooms.  The rules, and the opportunities, are different.

If you have concerns about how your money is being handled by your financial professional, or concerns that you or a loved one might be the victim of financial exploitation, call me at 1-800-647-8130.  Consultations are free, and confidential.

Darlene Pasieczny’s practice at Samuels Yoelin Kantor LLP focuses on all stages of corporate and securities law issues, securities litigation and FINRA arbitration, fiduciary litigation in trust and estate disputes, and complex civil litigation. Darlene’s practice includes representing investors nationwide in investment disputes through FINRA arbitration.

New FINRA Rule to Help Prevent Elder Financial Abuse

On February 5, 2018, a new FINRA rule geared towards preventing financial exploitation of seniors  – also called elder financial abuse – goes into effect. This is new Rule 2165, which creates a limited safe harbor for brokers to put a temporary hold on certain disbursement requests from a brokerage account.

The rule “permits members to place temporary holds on disbursements of funds or securities from the accounts of specified customers where there is a reasonable belief of financial exploitation of these customers.”  The new rule also amends existing FINRA Rule 4512, to require members to take reasonable efforts to have the customer identify the name of a trusted contact person as part of gathering customer account information. The broker may contact that person if there is a suspicious request for a disbursement of funds. The broker may also contact that person to confirm the customer’s contact information, health status, or identify of any legal guardian, executor, trustee, or holder of a power of attorney.

The new rule permits, but does not require, temporary holds and contacting the trusted contact person. And using it does not necessarily mean a total halt on all disbursements. For example, a broker could put a temporary hold on a suspicious request to transfer funds to an unfamiliar outside account, while still allowing regular bill payments to continue.

This is an important new tool from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) in the fight to curb financial abuse of senior citizens.

Elder financial abuse continues to be a major problem in the U.S., sometimes with devastating results. Fraudsters cheat seniors out of an estimated $3 billion annually. Some believe the dollar figures are up to ten times higher. Nobody is certain of the overall numbers, in part because it is believed that only a small percentage of cases are reported.  Senior financial abuse depletes retirement savings, and it affects our elderly community in other ways.  Studies concentrated on the health effects among those whose essential life savings have suddenly vanished have found that mortality rate can triple. Just think about the stress and emotional impact on a vulnerable senior when his or her financial security is stolen.

State and federal securities regulators are working to prevent elder financial abuse before it happens. But the scammers are out there. What can you do if you or a loved one has been financially exploited?

Contact an attorney experienced in recovering financial losses. In many circumstances, money unlawfully taken can be recovered. In my work as a litigator, I’ve helped curtail and restore money improperly taken from elders in estate and trust disputes among family members. I have helped recover money from brokers “selling away” from their firm, selling unapproved, extremely risky, or even outright fictional investments to unsuspecting elderly clients. We see bad actors unduly influencing seniors to sell undervalued property.  We see seniors (and others) who continue to place trust in swindlers because con artists are good at what they do. We see forged signatures, shady documentation, account statements printed off a home computer, and account figures that just don’t add up. And we fight for the financial abuse victim to recover money where possible. Contacting law enforcement and regulators are additional important resources, and your attorney can advise you on your best options for loss recovery.

As a securities attorney, I represent investors nationwide who have lost money due to the conduct of a financial professional or a defective investment product. I also represent parties in trust and estate disputes where a fiduciary has breached their duties and money is recoverable to the estate, trust, or beneficiary.

The Investor Defenders at Samuels Yoelin Kantor LLP help investors get their money back from brokerage fraud, fraudulent investments, elder financial abuse, and other situations. Our specialized investment litigation practice combines familiarity with complex financial modeling, experience with specialized FINRA arbitration rules and securities laws, and empathy for our clients whose financial losses have become personal.

If you have concerns about how your money is being handled by your financial professional, or concerns that you or a loved one might be the victim of financial exploitation, call me at 1-800-647-8130. Consultations are free, and confidential.

Darlene Pasieczny’s practice at Samuels Yoelin Kantor LLP focuses on all stages of corporate and securities law issues, securities litigation and FINRA arbitration, fiduciary litigation in trust and estate disputes, and complex civil litigation. Darlene’s practice includes representing investors nationwide in investment disputes.