A piece in today's New York Times looks at Robert J. Pyle, a 73-year old retired aerospace engineer who lost everything giving gifts to people he thought were his friends and then sold his house at a steep discount to its value to the first person who made an offer when he needed money.
Now he's suing, charging that because he is old, he should not have to bear full responsibility for his mistakes. What makes the lawsuit and others like it unique is that Pyle is not accusing those who have his money of fraud per se -- he just says they took advantage of an old man.
What the courts will do with his lawsuits remains to be seen -- But the bottom line is that, for better or for worse, elders can't rely on the government to protect them from opportunists.
If you have elderly parents or friends, offer to help them sort through their financial affairs. Many if not most will be resistant, not wanting to be patronized, but at least they'll know they have someone to turn to if they find themselves in a pickle.
Here are a few sites that have some tips for preventing elder fraud against loved ones: Fraud.org's elder fraud site, the Department of Justice's publications on elder fraud, and perhaps Barry Minkow's DVD Protecting yourself from elder abuse.