SPRINGVILLE — Once in awhile, a story comes across my desk that I couldn’t ignore if I wanted to. Glynnis Walker’s was one of those. Walker, a Chicago, Ill. author, emailed me last week, after she came across a story in the Journal about a recent scam targeting elders in Cattaraugus County. What she sent me blew the lid off an issue I think many of us haven’t given much thought. I knew I hadn’t. The issue? Elder fraud.
Walker sent me her new book that describes, in heartwrenching, gut-churning detail, how three unscrupulous characters stole her mother’s money, kept Walker away from her in her dying days and tore the family apart, for years afterward. It was a devastating read, but what’s even more horrifying is that it’s all true. And it’s happening right here at home.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Why write a story that focuses on a scam that happened in Victoria, British Columbia, a country away? Why interview a woman who’s in a different city, when there are so many at risk, right here in Springville?
Because sometimes, we have to take the stories that come to us with a compelling reason to spread them. And Walker’s did just that.
“My mother deserved better than this,” she told me in a phone interview, her voice choking up. “I want to tell as many people as I can, to spread the word so this doesn’t happen to someone else’s mother, to someone else’s family.”
As a newspaper editor, as a fellow human being, what sort of person would I be if I ignored the chance to inform our local community about what’s lurking beneath its surface, even if the original source is a time zone away?
Virginia Krebs, coordinator of the Springville Concord Elder Network, said that elder fraud is no small problem, in our local community. One of the major sources of that fraud are the transient sales that the village of Springville Board of Trustees is currently working to regulate, through a new local law, drafted this month. The starting point for that initiative was elder fraud. An 80-something-year-old woman went to Wal-Mart to do her shopping and was approached by an unscrupulous salesperson, who saw that she was driving an older car. He convinced her that there was something wrong with it, that it wasn’t even safe to drive home. He sold the unsuspecting woman a car she couldn’t afford, with bimonthly payments that would have decimated her finances.
In a panic, she went to the village office, who redirected her to the United States district attorney, who helped her get her money back. Although she was not able to recover her original car, she did go to a local dealer, who helped her purchase a car she could afford.
Since that incident, Springville has been working to curtail that type of fraud, but there are so many others.
And that’s where Walker comes in. If we can shine a light on the dishonest practices, the people targeting our elders and our society, I don’t think it matters where that light initially comes from.
That’s why we’re running a series on elder fraud in our community and what we can do about it. With Krebs’ help, with Walker’s help and with the help of others who have come forward to speak about it, we’re uncovering a problem that’s targeting the most vulnerable, the most fragile members of our society.
Because to my mind, a newspaper must be about more than spreading the news about our local sports teams, events going on in the community and new businesses opening. It’s got to be about exposing injustice, wherever we find it.