Scams that prey on the elderly, especially those involving money, not only drain the person’s bank account but can also destroy family relationships.
West Chester Twp. resident Maria, who asked that her last name be withheld, says in less than one year a crafty group of Internet scammers has bilked her mother out of $250,000. And after trying to intercede, Maria said she has lost her relationship with her 68-year-old mother.
“It’s not just the money,” Maria, an only child, said. “They manipulate them so that they don’t want to interact with their family… It feels like you are losing them right before your eyes and it’s by choice. … it feels like you’re tapping on a glass window and you can’t get through.”
Senior citizens are bilked out of about $36.5 billion a year due to scams, according to the National Council on Aging. That’s part of the reason why Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser has declared April as Prosecutor’s Senior Awareness Month and is posting information online about scams throughout the entire month.
“Scammers are ruthless and work without a sense of guilt,” he said. “Given a chance, they would scam their own mothers out of their last nickel and blame their mothers for allowing it.”
Such ruthless acts, he said, are made more possible by technology. That was the case with Maria’s mother.
After Maria’s father died, her mom discovered Facebook and purchased a cell phone. Soon, Maria said, her mother became involved in an online relationship with a man who claimed to be a millionaire.
Then her mother started getting texts — as many as 800 per week — at all hours of the day and night allegedly from her new beau and those close to him, Maria said.
“The story has changed,” Maria said, adding that her mother began receiving urgent messages requesting money.
“Oh, he got into an accident and is in a coma and if you don’t help pay his medical bills he’s going to die,” Maria said about the messages her mom was receiving.
Then a person claiming to be a lawyer for the man was asking for as much as $30,000 so he could prepare a will and include in it Maria’s mother.
“They have these stories, it’s not just one plot line,” Maria said. “It just keeps getting woven and woven and woven until (the victims) are completely drained.”
The knowledge of her mother losing hundreds of thousands of dollars to these scammers came too late, according to Maria.
Her mother decided to sell her home and Maria discovered some of the texts requesting the large amounts of money while helping her with a garage sale.
Maria got emergency guardianship to block the quick sale of the house, but because she can’t legally prove her mother is incompetent she said she can’t do much more.
“We had some big, burly, friendly cops talk to her, we had judges … and it doesn’t break through,” she said. “It’s not even on a logic plane. …It’s like black magic.”
Although financial exploitation is one of the most common forms of elder abuse, it also is one of the least reported, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Many victims are too embarrassed to pursue criminal action, while others are too emotionally or physically frail, the bureau says.
Older adults make attractive targets because they often have significant assets or equity in their homes and a steady source of income, such as Social Security or a pension.
Many also have cognitive decline or physical disabilities and are isolated from family and friends.
Butler County Probate Court Judge Randy Rogers, whose court oversees guardianships, said when people suspect their family member has fallen victim to a scam, there are several things that can be done.
“A family member can call the police, they can call (Adult Protective Services), which if you are talking about an elderly person and the person believes there is financial exploitation taking place, I would think the first call would be to APS,” Rogers said. “They have people that can investigate and they have quite a number of cases pending.”
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HOW TO GET HELP
Butler County Adult Protective Services: 513-887-4081
Butler County Crimes Against the Elderly Task Force: 1-888-662-3673
Ohio Attorney General’s Office:1-800-282-0515
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In 2011, the Butler County Prosecutor’s Office started the Butler County Crimes Against the Elderly Task Force.
The Ohio Attorney General’s Office started in 2014 the Elder Justice Initiative to increase prosecution of crimes against the elderly. Several sections of the AG’s office are involved in the initiative, including consumer protection, health care fraud, special prosecution and Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
For Gmoser’s part, he wants to stop the elder abuse before it even starts. He has offered to speak to organizations throughout the county on this topic. Education is key, he says, to preventing elder abuse.
“The only way to achieve a solution to this is an educated public,” he said.
Gmoser has also been a vocal supporter of Ohio Rep. Wes Retherford’s proposed Elder Justice Act.
The proposed legislation received support from the Ohio Attorney General’s and Butler County Prosecutor’s offices and a unanimous vote by the Ohio House, but opponents testified in the Ohio Senate it was an unfunded mandate.
It failed to get out of an Ohio Senate committee after seven hearings last year.
Before his arrest last month on OVI and weapons charges, Retherford, R-Hamilton, said changes had been made to address the issues raised in the Ohio Senate.
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