Four students in Cornell Law School’s Securities Law Clinic recently traveled to Upstate Oasis, a senior education center in Syracuse, to give a public presentation on investment fraud schemes that target seniors and retirees. Under the guidance of Professor William Jacobson and Professor Robert Banks, students Nicholas Hietpas ’24, Jade Lee ’24, Yi-An Wang ’24, and Zachary Hunt ’24 spent the afternoon speaking to a large group of attendees about the warning signs of investment fraud, common investment fraud schemes, and the resources available to individuals who believe they have been defrauded.
Financial exploitation is one of the fastest-growing forms of elder abuse, and many forms of investment fraud aim to exploit common vulnerabilities among the elderly. Older adults often experience cognitive decline or incapacity as they age, and they tend to be less comfortable with technology than younger adults, which can encourage fraudsters to deliberately target seniors and retirees. Because these schemes frequently rely on building trust with the victim, older adults who live alone, are isolated from their communities, or have limited social relationships are particularly vulnerable to investment fraud, as feeling alone can lead these individuals to readily trust others.
Due to their unique vulnerabilities, seniors and retirees are targeted at rates that far exceed the services available to assist them. As a result, law school clinics are an important resource for individuals who have become victims of investment fraud. Since 2008, Cornell’s Securities Law Clinic has offered students the opportunity to provide legal services to investors in upstate New York, including seniors and retirees who have been sold unsuitable or fraudulent financial products. In the Securities Law Clinic, students interview prospective clients, conduct discovery, draft legal documents, negotiate settlements, and even represent clients at hearings under attorney supervision.
Students in the Securities Law Clinic also participate in a variety of public outreach and education opportunities across central New York, such as the recent presentation at Upstate Oasis.
“This was a win-win for the students and the audience,” said Banks, who accompanied the students to Syracuse. “The students got valuable experience researching their topics, and then they honed their public-speaking skills by presenting their findings. The audience was given valuable information that will help them avoid becoming future fraud victims. I was extremely impressed with the students and gratified to see how interested the seniors were in the program.”