Exploitation of vulnerable adults is a growing concern in nearly every community. As the population ages and as those who have some disabilities are retaining more independence, there are more opportunities for intentional and unintentional exploitation. So just what is exploitation? According to Minnesota law,
“Whoever does any of the following acts commits the crime of financial exploitation:
(1) in breach of a fiduciary obligation recognized elsewhere in law, including pertinent regulations, contractual obligations, documented consent by a competent person, or the obligations of a responsible party under Section 144.6501 intentionally:
(i) fails to use the real or personal property or other financial resources of the vulnerable adult to provide food, clothing, shelter, health care, therapeutic conduct, or supervision for the vulnerable adult;
(ii) uses, manages, or takes either temporarily or permanently the real or personal property or other financial resources of the vulnerable adult, whether held in the name of the vulnerable adult or a third party, for the benefit of someone other than the vulnerable adult; or
(iii) deprives either temporarily or permanently a vulnerable adult of the vulnerable adult’s real or personal property or other financial resources, whether held in the name of the vulnerable adult or a third party, for the benefit of someone other than the vulnerable adult; or
(2) in the absence of legal authority:
(i) acquires possession or control of an interest in real or personal property or other financial resources of a vulnerable adult, whether held in the name of the vulnerable adult or a third party, through the use of undue influence, harassment, or duress;
(ii) forces, compels, coerces, or entices a vulnerable adult against the vulnerable adult’s will to perform services for the profit or advantage of another; or (iii) establishes a relationship with a fiduciary obligation to a vulnerable adult by use of undue influence, harassment, duress, force, compulsion, coercion, or other enticement.”
This means that if a person uses any of a vulnerable adult’s assets or income for anyone other than the vulnerable adult, they may be guilty of exploitation, whether that is the intention or not.
So who is a vulnerable adult? A vulnerable adult (VA) is a person who is not a minor and is under a disability or resides in or is eligible to reside in any of a variety of long term care facilities, or who is otherwise deemed a vulnerable adult under the law. This includes those diagnosed with dementia, receiving SSI or SSDI, or living in assisted living residences.
And who are perpetrators of exploitation? They may be friends or family who intentionally or unintentionally use the vulnerable adult’s money or property for themselves or someone else, such as giving the vulnerable adult’s belongings away because the VA is not using them, or giving gifts of money to the VA’s children or grandchildren because the VA doesn’t spend very much. They may be newfound “friends” with sympathetic needs or who appear to be champions of a good cause. It could be a person posing as a grandchild in dire immediate need of cash to get out of a purported dangerous situation and go home.
What can you do to help prevent exploitation? Become knowledgeable about legal documents that pertain to your assets or finances. Take a class or read materials about what they are, what they can do, and what they cannot do. Have more than one family member or friend to consult with and who will advocate for you. Avoid relying on only one person or couple for access to the community, medical care, or acquiring necessities. Question everything you are asked to sign and sign nothing until you get sound advice and understand what you are signing and its implications. Call 911 to report suspected exploitation.
There are penalties for the perpetrator, both criminal, usually jail time and restitution, and civil, up to three times the amount taken, but these cases can be very hard to prove and it is often too little too late for the victim.