Elder Fraud in Denver

In the City and County of Denver, Colorado, alone, older adults have lost and continue to lose millions of dollars each year to financial exploitation and fraud. In two recent criminal cases filed by the Denver District Attorney's Economic Crime Unit, elderly victims lost more than $20 million. In People of Colorado v. Hoover, the victims' investment advisor was convicted of stealing $17 million in life savings. In People of Colorado v. Linville, elderly victims and the estates of deceased people lost more than $3.5 million through theft by their probate attorney.

According to many who work with victims at the Denver District Attorney's Office, older financial crime victims can experience severe emotional trauma. Hoover's victims reported that their victimization caused them extreme financial devastation and even bankruptcy in some cases. Many victims needed counseling for severe depression and societal anger and alienation.

Victimization of the elderly is especially devastating. Unlike younger victims, elderly victims find it difficult to recoup their losses by returning to the workforce. Although restitution was ordered in the Hoover and Linville cases, both defendants were sentenced to lengthy prison sentences (Hoover to 100 years and Linville to 41 years), so the victims will never be repaid. Some of Hoover's victims, who are in their 70s and 80s, have had to go back to work at low-paying jobs or take in work at home (an 83-year-old victim knits scarves for sale) just to pay living expenses.

Losing life savings may have long-term physical and emotional consequences including the loss of access to adequate food and housing, health care, in-home care, and ultimately, an independent lifestyle and secure retirement. Hoover victimized a couple in their 80s who are both cancer survivors. With the theft of their life savings, they were forced to refinance their mortgage-free home to pay for their prescription drugs. The couple has given up driving their car and instead ride the bus to save money.

Elders Are More Vulnerable

In the City and County of Denver, older adults are more vulnerable to fraud and financial exploitation than are other age groups. Adults older than age 60 make up 16 percent of Denver's population, while elderly victims consistently account for more than 30 percent of the victims in criminal cases filed by the Denver District Attorney's Economic Crime Unit. Characteristics that the Denver District Attorney's Office has observed in its cases that increase older adults' risk of victimization include the following:

  • Living alone and being isolated or lonely, no family members or friends in the immediate area from whom to seek advice.
  • Lack of knowledge about financial, legal, and insurance matters; little attention paid to financial accounts. Inexperienced and unsophisticated investors.
  • Overdependence on one caregiver or advisor, particularly if that person is financially dependent, controlling, or seeks to further isolate the older adult.
  • Overly trusting and charitable, causing the victim to trust the perpetrators: "He wouldn't tell me I needed a new roof if it wasn't true."
  • Refusal of help; does not seek a second opinion.

Con Artists Target the Elderly

The Denver District Attorney's Office also observed that con artists deliberately target older adults by taking advantage of these vulnerabilities. This trend may be increasing. As baby boomers inherit their families' wealth, those who perpetrate fraud and financial exploitation will have potentially lucrative new targets.


Researchers have also concluded that approximately 80 percent of elder abuse cases may go unreported.4 In most cases reported to the Denver District Attorney's Office, the reporting party is not the victim, but rather a family member, friend, caregiver, or advisor. The Denver District Attorney's Office notes a variety of reasons that elderly victims do not report abuse, including the following:

  • Belief that they are to blame.
  • Sense of shame or embarrassment.
  • Emotional or economic dependence on the abuser.
  • Fear of separation from home or family.
  • Fear of the criminal justice system.
  • Lack of knowledge of their rights and alternatives available to them.

When crimes are not reported, victims may not receive supportive services and perpetrators are free to continue victimizing others.

To respond to these challenges, the Denver District Attorney's Office expanded on its elder fraud prevention program by launching a unique project of education, intervention, and advocacy through the faith community.

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Partnering With Faith Communities To Provide Elder Fraud Prevention, Intervention, and Victim Services
April 2006