By Ida Tyree Hyche, Esq.

Baby Boomers have become the “eldercare generation.” A Baby Boomer myself, that statement came to heart when I researched alleged elder abuse of a family relative in the Black Belt of Greene County by an automobile dealership.

While most cases of elder abuse center around elderly health care, telemarketing scams, nursing home abuse, little notice goes to automobile dealers and payday/title loan operations servicing the elderly. Chris Walter, in his article at titled, “GMAC and Car Dealership Scams Old Lady for Nearly $8,000” reports a volunteer’s claim in Chicago that her client, a 65-year-old woman with dementia, was given a GMAC auto loan for a new 2007 Pontiac, even though she only makes $900 a month and has no driver's license. Repossessing the car later, the car dealership says the woman owes them nearly $8,000. On a fixed income, in great debt, the woman received a loan and one month after missing a payment, the car was repossessed, auctioned and the car dealership sued for the difference of $8000. The story somewhat parallels my elderly relative’s situation – only the city is Eutaw and the State is Alabama.
Elderly citizens may become the target of unethical auto dealers. These scam artists frequently conceal the poor condition of used cars. There may also be acts of fraud and misrepresentation of the purchase price. In my relative’s case a verbal agreement was haggled out, however, the actual paperwork reflects a totally different price. Do you think the paperwork reflected a lower price? It did not. In fraud and misrepresentation, sometimes the paperwork price is raised above the actual sticker price. While we would like our elderly to rely on car dealer salespersons like any other professional service provider, there are instances it appears that verbal contracts mean nothing, yet are used widely.
Another common scam by unethical auto dealers is down payment fraud. This is how it works: An individual trades in a vehicle and/or pays a down payment; however, the seller defrauds the customer of that equity in the deal. For example, an elderly woman trades in her vehicle and according to the automobile dealership, she has equity over and above what she owes. The elderly customer trades in her vehicle and thinks she is applying the equity toward her new purchase. The auto dealership also informs her they would take the trade-in and pay off the balance with the bank holding a note on the old vehicle. Three months later the elderly customer receives a call from her old bank wanting to know why she is behind in her payments. Or, where there is no loan owing on the trade-in, she looks at her new purchase agreement after the sale and discovers the trade-in and down payment are not recorded as part of the sale. There can be numerous variations of this type scam. Elderly citizens, beware!
Perhaps, the most difficult part of elderly abuse in auto sales fraud is the exploitation, coercion and intimidation. When the dealership sees the customer is on to their tactics, they may verbally abuse seniors, call them “liars”, and play on their aging physical limitations, i.e., “you may not have heard me well”, “you may have a short memory”, and such.
The phrase, “Zero Percent Financing on new and used vehicles” is a ploy to draw in the naive customer! The automobile dealership adds the cost of interest to the price of the car up front.
Where can abused elderly citizens seek refuge in the laws and arms of these United States? On February 11, 2009, the United States House of Representatives passed and amended the Elder Abuse Victims Act of 2009 which purpose is to protect seniors in the United States from elder abuse by establishing specialized elder abuse prosecution and research programs and activities to aid victims of elder abuse, to provide training to prosecutors and other law enforcement related to elder abuse prevention and protection, to establish programs that provide for emergency crisis response teams to combat elder abuse, and for other purposes.

While all 50 states have enacted laws that address the problem of elder abuse and neglect, the laws are not uniform. Federal law describes an elderly person as one who is 60 years of age and older. Some states use 65 years of age as their baseline, while others follow federal law. States differ in their specific definition of elder abuse. Many states include financial exploitation of the elderly in their definitions of elder abuse. State laws typically include physical abuse, deprivation of care that results in physical harm, pain or mental suffering, and passive or active neglect. For the most part, States place strong emphasis on protection of the elderly. A majority of States command reporting of elder abuse. A few States require financial professionals, such as bankers, to report elder abuse.
While States have different punishment schemes for failure to report, the majority of states make the failure to report elder abuse a misdemeanor that may be punishable with a fine and/or jail time. Those charged with the responsibility of reporting elder abuse are generally required to have a "reasonable belief" that an elderly person has been the victim of elder abuse.
We owe a tremendous debt to those who made possible the opportunities we now enjoy, and we must be faithful in repaying our obligation to them. When their strength and vigilance is weakened by age, the rest of us must be strong and steadfast in protecting them. The “eldercare generation” assumes a prodigious responsibility.

Author's Bio: 

About the contributing writer:
Ida Tyree Hyche, Esquire, a victim’s advocate, researcher and writer, resides in Birmingham, and Huntsville, Alabama.