Protecting the Elderly from Abuse, Financial Scams
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Tom Fudge: The goodness of a society is judged by the way it treats its most vulnerable people, and the elderly are among our most vulnerable. Physically, they are less able to defend themselves. Some are easily intimidated and some are easily confused by complicated sales or business offers.
Just last week, a 75-year-old La Mesa woman was allegedly kidnapped and beaten by three young people. One of them had just sold her a vacuum cleaner for $2,000. Natalie Herbst-Vinge was sent to the hospital and is recovering. Her attackers have been charged with numerous crimes.
- Paul Greenwood, deputy district attorney and head of the Elder Abuse Prosecution Unit in the San Diego DA's Office.
- Pam Smith, director of San Diego County's Aging and Independent Services .
Courtesy of: Paul Greenwood, Deputy District Attorney, Head of the Elder Abuse Prosecution Unit in the San Diego District Attorney's Office.
TEN TIPS TO HELP YOU REDUCE THE RISK OF BECOMING
THE NEXT VICTIM OF FINANCIAL ELDER ABUSE
1) CHOOSE A CAREGIVER WITH CAUTION
Do not assume that by hiring a caregiver through a bonded agency you are
guaranteed to get someone who has been checked. There is no current
law requiring mandatory background checks for in-home caregivers in
2) KEEP AN INVENTORY OF ALL JEWELRY
Jewelry is the number one item that is stolen from homes occupied by
elders. Not only should your jewelry be kept in a locked drawer, you should
have photographs of rare, valuable or sentimental items in a separate
location. In the event of theft, such photographic evidence will be useful in
tracking down the missing jewelry at a pawn shop.
3) EVERY HOME SHOULD HAVE A SHREDDER
Every piece of mail containing your name, address and any other identifying
information should be shredded before being discarded. The most effective
type of shredder is the criss-cross cut shredder. Even envelopes with your
name and address should be shredded. Never throw away old checkbooks
from closed accounts or bank credit card application forms. There is no
danger in over shredding!
4) PROTECT YOUR INCOMING AND OUTGOING MAIL
Never allow incoming mail to sit in an unsecured mailbox where the public
have access. Mailbox theft is rampant. Similarly, never leave outgoing mail
In an unsecured mailbox with the red flag raised as this simply provides an
easy alert to the thief who is cruising the streets. Consider either purchasing
a locked mailbox or renting a post office from your local post office.
5) OBTAIN A CREDIT SEARCH ON YOURSELF AT LEAST TWO
OR THREE TIMES A YEAR
Identity theft is rampant. The only way to have peace of mind is to obtain a
credit search on yourself periodically from one of the three major credit
bureaus – Experian, Equifax and Trans Union. This will enable you to
discover whether someone has applied for or obtained a credit card in
6) EVERY TELEPHONE SHOULD HAVE CALLER I.D. FITTED
All modern telephones are equipped with Caller I.D. capability and the
minimal cost of this extra service is well worth it. By seeing if the incoming
call is classified as “private” or “unknown” this will allow you to be
immediately on your guard. Crooks love the telephone. It is now their
weapon of choice.
7) YOU WILL NEVER WIN THE CANADIAN LOTTERY
If a smooth talking 25 year old male tells you on the telephone that you are
the proud winner of the Canadian lottery, he is a liar. Similarly, if you get an
email from Nigeria or letter from Madrid indicating that you could receive a
substantial amount of money, such communications are always fraudulent.
Do not dabble!!
8) CONSIDER ALLOWING YOUR BANK TO SEND A DUPLICATE
COPY OF YOUR MONTHLY STATEMENT TO A TRUSTED
FAMILY MEMBER OR PROFESSIONAL ADVISOR
Sadly, most financial elder abuse cases are only reported or discovered
six to nine months after the initial losses have occurred. Elders whose sight
is failing are at greater risk because they may rely upon the very person who
is stealing from them to insure that the financial transactions are in order.
An independent pair of eyes that is able to look over bank statements every
30 days will be able to catch suspicious activities in the early stages.
9) DON’T ASSUME THAT THE FRIENDLY HANDYMAN IS IN FACT
Before committing to any work on your home, always obtain at least three
estimates in writing and check on the name of the contractor with both the
Better Business bureau and with the State License Contractor’s Board. Just
because someone gives you an impressive business card with a contractor’s
license number on it, this does not mean that the person is qualified. The
license number may have in fact been stolen. Additionally, never pay more
than 10% of the contract price up front.
10) ALWAYS HAVE A SECOND LINE OF DEFENSE AT YOUR FRONT
You should either have a locked screen door or a security chain guard at
your front door. Crooks will attempt to gain entry to your home by using
excuses such as a fake emergency, or false uniforms and badges. By
having a second line of defense, you will be able to communicate with the
stranger on the doorstep without exposing yourself to the possibility of a
forced entry. Never allow any stranger into your home even if the
emergency seems real. Instead, tell the stranger that you will call 911.
Paul Greenwood, Deputy District Attorney
San Diego District Attorney’s Office, Head of Elder Abuse Prosecution