SPRINGVILLE — Elder fraud wears many hats and can come from the most unexpected of places, but there are resources for local seniors to protect themselves from fraud, or report and recover from it, if they find themselves victimized.
Virginia Krebs, coordinator of the Springville Concord Elder Network, makes it her mission to find and publicize these resources, to keep the community she serves safe.
Krebs herself is no stranger to elder abuse.
“A member of my family was victimized and lost $300,000. We thought, ‘How could this happen?” This person has family, has friends.”
The individual had retained an accountant that, according to Krebs “for 7 years, wrote herself checks. He trusted her, and she was getting paid to steal. It was only discovered when he mentioned to his son that he didn’t have enough cash for that week and the son thought, ‘That couldn’t be.’”
That was when the man’s son realized what was going on and was able to intervene, eventually taking the case to the United States District Attorney, who prosecuted the fraudulent individual.
“This is someone who anyone would say should have known better,” Krebs said. “This is a person who had family, resources, but was victimized because he was a senior. It can happen to anyone.”
The types of frauds that are out there run the gamut from younger people asking seniors to co-sign loans to gambling trips, ill-intentioned new friends and even charity scams.
“Sometimes, a caregiver will move in under the auspices of help and the senior can’t get rid of them,” Krebs said. “They’ll come in a crisis and will also have control of that person’s finances, and they may not always have the senior’s best interests at heart.”
Krebs also said that seniors have to be on the lookout for seemingly innocuous things like gambling trips, which can lead to seniors’ losing money they can’t afford to lose.
“They’re not the typical concept of fraud, but if you put someone who might be confused in front of a machine they don’t really understand, with a card that’s attached to their credit card, then give them lunch and transportation and leave them for four hours; that can be very dangerous,” Krebs said. “It’s things like that, that look good, but really can be a risk.”
Other similar schemes are giveaways or raffles at home shows or craft fairs, or as Krebs put it, “anytime you write your name down.
“These people are pros, and they know how to do it,” she said. “Before you know it, your personal information has been sold and you’re vulnerable.”
Other potential scams include reverse mortgages with high interest rates, life insurance that may not be in seniors’ best interest and unscrupulous transient sales, to name a few.
One of the best ways to avoid these types of fraud, according to Krebs, is to deal with local businesses that have “a social conscience.
“Local businesses re-invest in the local community and won’t sell products customers won’t need,” she said. “For them, customers are bigger than their products. For scammers and businesses that deal in fraud, all that matters is the money. Once they get it, they’ll be gone.”
The face of elder fraud is changing as well, the SCENe coordinator noted.
“People think the typical victim of elder fraud is frail and confused, but that’s not the case today,” Krebs said. “Scammers are extremely sophisticated.
“One of those is what I like to call ‘loser lovers,’ what we used to call gigolos,” Krebs added. “They read the obituaries, find a vulnerable man or woman and make friends and before you know it, they’re taking them out to dinner, wining and dining them, then they’re living together. It’s not because they care for [the senior]. It’s because they have good credit or resources. They’ll use them up and move on.
“It’s a double tragedy,” she continued. “There’s nothing worse than having your heart manipulated. You lose all faith and trust in humanity, then you withdraw, and become even more vulnerable.”
Elders are often unable to recoup their finances, since many are on a fixed or limited income, which deepens the impact.
“A lot of the time, when [fraud] happens, elders don’t want to tell about it,” Krebs added. “They feel used, violated. They may feel like a fool and not want people to know. It’s like other types of assaults, but the most important thing is to tell people. Tell a family member or someone you trust. Tell the authorities.”
The SCENe office distributes a number of resources to help local seniors do just that. One of the best places to start is the Erie County Department of Senior Services, which can be reached at 858-8526.
Another is the U.S. district attorney’s legal advice hotline, at 853-3087.
Two booklets detailing what to do, in the case of identity theft or elder fraud, are also available at the office, one on identity theft in particular and one covering how to avoid financial scams.
“Anyone can come in and look at them, find out how to stay protected,” Krebs said, of those resources.
In addition, SCENe is planning to host a speaker session with a representative from the Erie County Sheriff’s Department, who will discuss elder fraud and how to stay protected. That seminar is scheduled for May 2.
There are other ways people can help protect local seniors, as well as help local seniors protect themselves.
“Get involved,” Krebs said. “That’s the best thing. Know who lives next door, who sits next to you at church. If your elder mother or grandmother or neighbor starts telling you they have a new best friend, or you see people coming and going from their house that you don’t know, call Erie County Senior Services.”
Krebs said that a local woman called her for just that reason, recently.
“She was concerned that her neighbor was getting older and was no longer able to keep a tight reign on her finances,” Krebs explained. “Social security did a home study, not to remove her from the home, but just to make sure she was safe, that she had the resources to stay safe. They were able to get her needed medical intervention and health aids, proper nutrition. She is now much less vulnerable and less likely to be a victim.”
In addition, younger adults must look out for the worst-case scenario, especially when caring for elders, Krebs noted.
“We tell people, don’t be a target,” she added, referencing the recent credit card scam that took place at Target stores. “It doesn’t matter if you’re 18 or 88; you can become embroiled in a huge scam, if you’re not careful. You just need to be alert.”
Marge Wilcox of Springville is one alert citizen who said she has been dealing with a potential fraud, since October 2013
“I have had repeated calls from someone saying they are with MSN Technical Support and I need to let them help me get rid of a virus in my computer,” she said. “MSN never contacts users by phone. My sister fell prey to these people and they cleaned out her bank account and accessed any personal information they could get their hands on.”
Wilcox contacted the New York State Internet Fraud unit in October, and was told the fraud was something that department had on file, but the calls kept coming. “The latest call I received was [Jan. 28] and they have apparently not shut down their operation yet. The robo calls are endless, such as, ‘We will give you $5,000 just to do business with our company.’ Well, I don’t know of anyone who likes us well enough to give us $5,000.”
The Springville resident noted that, although she and others who are considered “elderly, have enough sense to realize these are all scams ... not all elderly are able to understand they are being preyed upon.”
Krebs agreed that the elder population is as diverse as any other segment.
“Elder people need advocates, but I like to say that people need advocates,” Krebs said.
“We can’t lump people together. There are some elders who are of diminished capacity, be that mental, physical or emotional. but others are not. We all need to be careful.”
The SCENe office is located at 64 East Main St. in Springville and can be reached at 592-7599.