Protecting Our Elders: Scam AlertDec 15th, 2011 | By Eric Hovatter | Category: Safe, Sound and Savvy
This simple statistic tells me that the number of potential victims of elder abuse will skyrocket in the next decade – just as dire financial issues combine to hinder law enforcement and put more criminals out on the streets. Laws need to be tougher on those who target seniors, and seniors themselves need to be more vigilant.
Scam alert: Seniors should be aware of phone calls, purporting to be from a relative (often a grandchild) asking them to send money to help with some urgent legal problem such as bail or attorney’s fees. The call usually comes from out-of-state or overseas, and includes a request for the senior not to inform the caller’s mother or father.
The “relative” usually requests the money be sent via money gram (again, to an out-of-state or overseas location), and time is always of the essence. FBI offices in Northern California field hundreds of calls each month from victims of this scam. Apart from the difficulty in finding and prosecuting perpetrators, it should be noted that if the loss is under $10,000, nothing is ever done by authorities.
Apart from the obvious financial loss and the nearly impossible hope for restitution in these cases, there are other possible consequences. The victims are faced with reporting the crime and facing scrutiny of their mental capacity by relatives or county agencies, or staying silent and living with their loss (and I believe the latter is the most common approach).
What about the actual relative whose identity was used to scam the senior? Other family members often blame that person for destroying the senior’s finances, and family tension can spiral. The lesson here is don’t act hastily, and beware of any requests to keep other family “out of the loop.”
Perpetrators want the cash wired because it gets the money out of the victim’s control the quickest, so don’t wire without some confirmation of the story. One call to another family member (or calling the alleged caller on another phone number) to verify any part of a scam story can save the potential victim thousands of dollars.
And finally, ask your “relative” some questions that only they would know (like in the Battle of the Bulge, during which GIs asked other soldiers who had won the World Series that year, to ferret out enemy soldiers in U.S. uniforms). If they don’t know, hang up.
Convicted: A local jury recently returned guilty verdicts against a Tuolumne County woman who gained control over her 88-year-old grandmother’s finances. The woman drained the victim’s savings account, stole thousands from her checking account, and racked up more than $6,000 on a credit card in the victim’s name.
The defendant was convicted of financial elder abuse, identity theft, forgery and numerous counts of commercial burglary. She was sentenced to five years’ felony probation, fines, and one year in county jail. Restitution will be fought over at a later date. The victim has since passed away.
Eric Hovatter is a deputy district attorney with the Tuolumne County District Attorney’s office.
© 2011 Friends and Neighbors Magazine