Guest Column: Elder Fraud
David B Shoar, Sheriff
St Johns County, FL
This month, I would like to address the topic of fraud against our elderly.
Of more than 149,000 registered voters in St. Johns County, nearly 72,000 are currently age 50 or older and over 42,000 are currently age 61 or older according to records obtained from the St. Johns County Supervisor of Elections.
As in other parts of the state, with the arrival of the “baby boomer” generation, we look for St. Johns County to continue to grow our population of senior citizens.
Because retired adults between the ages of 65 and 85 control over 70% of the nation’s wealth, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse, and many of those people do not realize the true value of their assets, seniors are likely targets of a category of criminal activity referred to as “Elder Fraud”.
Elder fraud can be loosely described as any financially motivated crime where the perpetrator intentionally misleads or deceives an elderly person in order to gain access to the victim’s assets for their own use. The problem with the description is that there is really no exact age that makes a person “elderly” or “senior”, therefore statistics and instances of this crime are hard to track.
In addition to physical age, “elder” also describes a person in terms of bodily health and ability to function, for example, debilitating memory loss or loss of mobility.
Data regarding this crime is difficult to obtain since it is estimated that only one in twenty-five cases ever are reported. If those estimates are reliable, we may have as many as 5 million “silent victims” of elder fraud in the United States every year, surpassed only by the reported cases of elder neglect and physical abuse.
Currently there are no national reporting systems in place to record and analyze this abuse. Secondly, we suspect that the crime is very often unreported. Third, the actual definitions of “elder fraud” vary, and, finally, the nature of the crime makes it difficult to detect even by trained professionals.
The overwhelming physical and emotional toll of this crime cannot be understated. Late in life, our elderly cannot recover, in many cases, as they could when they were younger and still working.
For the victims, destroyed trust in a time of need and isolation, crushed dreams, ruined life savings and sometimes even physical abuse and death can be the results.
Typically, there is no lone indicator of financial exploitation.
However, there are several recognizable warning signs:
• A new purported love interest or best friend
• A caregiver who seems to demand a lot of control over decisions
• Sudden changes in mood or behavior such as depression or sadness
• Signs of neglect
• Possessions disappearing
• Inexplicable financial transactions
• ATM usage or unexplained credit card transactions
• Checks or documents including the appearance of suspicious signatures
• Large purchases of needless home repairs
• Poor explanations about specific financial questions
• Elder person does not comprehend financial arrangements that have been made
In addition, we get reports regularly that target the elderly of a relative, such as a grandson, that is incarcerated in another country and needs money for bail. Often times the victim is so upset they obtain a money order and send it without checking with other family members to determine if it is true.
If you know of someone that could be a victim of elder fraud, or if you suspect it, please report this to your local law enforcement agency or here at the Sheriff’s Office.
For us in law enforcement, it is essential that we continue to follow-up with the victims of these devastating crimes after the case is closed. At the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office, we are committed to maintaining a referral network of community programs and to ensuring that our victim advocates remain available to help.