A reporter asked an infamous criminal named Willie Sutton why he robbed banks? Rumor has it he replied, “That’s where the money is.”

Today’s elderly Americans hold over $13 trillion. They own 70% of all discretionary income in the U.S. These aging citizens spent their lives earning money. Baby boomers grew up during an era when people trusted businesses to conduct fair and honest sales. The consumer landscape has eroded since those days. Even some well-known banks, once bastions of ethical dealing, have lately proved themselves capable of greed and corruption.

The unscrupulous marketplace

While today’s consumer scene can prove tricky to navigate for any customer, aging can particularly affect seniors’ ability to manage their finances successfully. State and federal laws recognize retirement age as a time when many older Americans begin to lose mental acuity. Mild to moderate dementia and the cognitive decline of Alzheimer’s increase as people enter their golden years.

Never underestimate a veteran

Thinking he was turning into an auto repair shop, an 82-year-old decorated WWII veteran Idaho man found himself on the lot of a major auto dealership. The confused man was driving his new-model, fully owned Toyota RAV4. He purchased the vehicle outright in cash from retirement savings and his veterans benefits. Spotting the senior’s confusion, the auto dealer persuaded the man to make a straight trade of his RAV4 for a Ford Focus worth less than half the price of the new Toyota. The action netted the auto dealer a profit of over 200%. Due to the senior’s severe cognitive deficits, a dealership employee had to drive the man home in his new Focus.

The next morning, the man asked his adult children, “Where is my RAV4?” After some quick research at their father’s home, they found the auto dealership’s paperwork for the straight trade-in of the RAV4 on a new Ford economy car.

When they contacted the auto dealership and explained their father was not mentally capable of understanding the transaction he had made, the dealership refused to cancel the sale. Unknown to the sales manager, a local reporter was at the veteran’s home, listening as the manager told the family he was cutting off all contact with them. The family knew their rights. They hired an attorney to claim fraudulent abuse of state law protecting senior consumers, plus an additional “tort of outrage” charge for fraudulent inducement.

In an ironic twist, the transaction came to the attention of the national Disabled Veterans of America. The DAV was thoroughly enraged; the veterans organization had sponsored and bought a massive number of Ford Motor Company vehicles over the years for veterans beginning in the 1920s. Several Western states picked up the news story. The auto dealer received a hurricane of bad publicity.

Wisconsin and senior consumer fraud protection

The state of Wisconsin has some of the strongest state laws in place to protect the elderly and disabled from those who take advantage of vulnerable members of society. Those who defraud people in auto sales—or in any business–can receive severe legal sanctions for consumer fraud.