Thursday, June 21, 2007

How To . . . Steal an Estate?

On June 19, 2007, on the relatively new Connecticut Elder Law Blog, attorney Michael J. Keenan, of Keenan Law, LLC, in Glastonbury, CT, noted, in his posting entitled "A Very Scary Blog for Elders", another new website called Steal an Estate.

In alarm, he quoted its June 15th posting:

The June 15th post is a very long and comprehensive "how to" list of instructions on how to financially swindle the elderly, and if you're an elderly person or have elderly parents living alone in the community, it's a downright terrifying read.

When I first read it I was outraged because it reads like an advertisement to encourage financial predators. But when you click "about Steal an Estate" in the upper right-hand column you will see that the purpose of the post is to educate readers on the types of strategies a skilled predator will employ against the elderly.
Similarly, my initial reaction to the Steal an Estate website was disgust, even horror, at the seemingly promotional phrases (copied in the graphic above):
  • Get Rich! On Other People's Money!
  • Displace Rightful Heirs Legally!
  • Never Have To Work Again!
Michael concluded that the website really is a parody with a message: Predators prey deliberately & selfishly on the elderly for financial gain.

That site's author confirms his motives -- to illuminate elder exploitation. He explains his intention to prevent abuse through education:

Steal an discloses the secrets, strategies and malicious manipulations skilled con artists use to steal elderly people’s estates from their rightful heirs. Sadly, many of their tactics are hard to prove.

You may find yourself cut off, disinherited and disowned by people you love and have loved all your life for no apparent reason.

Organized crime rings are perpetrating some large estate thefts.

These criminals use sophisticated mental manipulation techniques developed by the military to poison and redirect elderly people’s minds, feelings and intentions. It is surprisingly easy to do. We explain how they do it. * * *

The thieves come disguised as helpful neighbors, caring live ins and even your own siblings. They are focused, skilled and well organized. * * *

This information is provided to help protect others from the crimes we experienced.

Michael's concern for his elderly clients, and the underlying concern of the author of the Steal an Estate website, are grounded in a reality identified by the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA).

NCEA advocates -- in a conventional way -- for education, investigation, & prosecution related to elder abuse. NCEA also maintains the pre-eminent online "
gateway to resources on elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation", originates email alerts to an open mailing list, and maintains a monitored listserv for exchange of information & ideas.
NCEA is a national resource for elder rights, law enforcement and legal professionals, public policy leaders, researchers, and the public. The Center’s mission is to promote understanding, knowledge sharing, and action on elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation.

The NCEA is administered under the auspices of the National Association of State Units on Aging.

With partners at the American Bar Association (ABA) Commission on Law and Aging, Clearinghouse on Abuse and Neglect of the Elderly at the University of Delaware, National Adult Protective Services Association, and the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, NCEA carries out a broad range of activities.
On the other hand, the unconventional Steal an Estate approach shocks to achieve its professed objective. I doubt that this approach will be an effective preventative.

Instead, I think that the website will do more in instructing "how to" accomplish elder exploitation effectively, than in dissuading a potential abuser from embarking upon it.

I would compare such elder exploitation advice to the "bomb making" websites available in the 1990s that, regardless of their motives, contributed to death & destruction in America.
See: 1997 Report on the Availability of Bombmaking Information", posted by the United States Department of Justice.

Such activity should not be protected by "free speech" principles, according to the 1997 Report:
The First Amendment would impose substantial constraints on any attempt to proscribe indiscriminately the dissemination of bombmaking information. The government generally may not, except in rare circumstances, punish persons either for advocating lawless action or for disseminating truthful information -- including information that would be dangerous if used -- that such persons have obtained lawfully.

However, the constitutional analysis is quite different where the government punishes speech that is an integral part of a transaction involving conduct the government otherwise is empowered to prohibit; such "speech acts" -- for instance, many cases of inchoate crimes such as aiding and abetting and conspiracy -- may be proscribed without much, if any, concern about the First Amendment, since it is merely incidental that such "conduct" takes the form of speech.
I favor fighting against elder exploitation directly & forcefully, not by innuendo, implication, or indirect means.

So, I admire the forthright efforts extended to combat elder abuse & exploitation in Pennsylvania by organizations such as the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, the Attorney General of Pennsylvania's Elder Abuse Unit, the Pennsylvania Department of Aging's Protective Services for Older Adults Program, Temple University's Institute on Protective Services, and the Center for Advocacy for the Rights and Interests of the Elderly in Philadelphia, among many, many others.

I believe that the approach of Steal an Estate will do more harm than good. I urge its author to remove the website, and spread the message by more constructive methods.

Update: 06/25/07:

Subsequent to this posting, the author(s) of the
Steal an Estate website sent me three email messages, from different addresses, anonymously arguing their motivation in framing their website in that manner.

They also posted a rebuttal to my comments on their website. But I will not argue publicly with someone who withholds their identity; and so I will say no more. I still believe that this website, in its original configuration, will do more harm than good.

I would also urge the website's author(s) -- if any attorneys are involved -- to consider this report, dated June 23, 2007, entitled "
Pa. law firm's immigration talk hits YouTube; U.S. senator demands investigation", an Associated Press article posted by the Arizona Star.

It reports criticism at the federal level of a video alleged to educate about circumvention of U.S. immigration laws. Read it yourself, and consider if it might apply to this situation.

Update: 09/03/08:

For other websites that advocate against financial exploitation & physical abuse of elders in families, based upon the authors' personal experience,
see: PA EE&F Law Blog posting "Elder Abuse" Websites Warn Personally (09/03/08).