Investment schemes, reverse mortgage scams, even funeral and cemetery fraud are common among senior citizens. Why do con artists target seniors?
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, older Americans are most likely to have excellent credit and a nest egg. They also are often trusting and polite. They make a prime target for thieves.
Seniors are less likely to report a crime, are embarrassed about having been scammed, or they don't know they've been duped in the first place, according to the FBI's "Common Fraud Schemes: Fraud Target: Senior Citizens" report.
Local Help for Free
If you are over 60 and believe you have been victimized, there is a local government program that just may be able to you get justice.
And it won't cost you a dime.
It's known as the Senior Victim Advocate Program with the Area Agency On Aging of Pasco-Pinellas.
It is funded by the Victim of Crime Act (VOCA) Grant with the Office of the Attorney General.
In Pinellas County
The point person in Pinellas County is Victim Advocate Coordinator Cathy Stallings, who has held the position since April 2011.
Stallings brings to her job a distinguished career in social work. Previously, for nearly 20 years, she was a case manager, working with families in crisis and in poverty.
She has experience in human development an ddomestic violence services, including accompanying victims to court to help them seek justice.
Stallings says the "majority of crime seniors become victims of is financial exploitation, either at the hands of a family member or a person in a position of trust to the elderly person, such as a caregiver."
Other common acts of financial exploitation she sees in her work are con artists who make older citizens "targets for scams, such as home repair fraud, sales scams, fake lotteries, telephone, mail and e-mail scams that try to get seniors to provide personal financial information."
Unfortunately, the financial exploitation doesn't stop there. Stallings added, "Seniors are also more likely to be victims of such crimes as purse snatching, burglaries and theft due to what is perceived as infirmities of aging. Further, our program assists victims of crime such as attempted homicide, domestic violence, neglect and battery, to name other types of crimes we typically see."
Just how prevalent is this abuse of seniors in our area?
Stallings said that so far in the current grant calendar year for this program, which ends Sept. 30, a total of 149 senior victims of crime have been served.
Hence, she fully anticipates the program will clearly exceed the projected number of 154 mature victims originally forecasted to be served this year.
Is the economy a factor?
When asked whether the significant downturn in the economy has led to increasing numbers of seniors seeking help, Stallings replied, "With the epidemic of unemployment and foreclosed homes, more people who were previously in the work force have turned to their elderly relatives to house them. Although this is not a guarantee that elderly abuse, neglect or exploitation will occur, there are warning signs, such as financial stress, substance abuse, overcrowding in homes, resentment of family members who find themselves as caregivers and unfamiliar with resources. These 'triggers' can create a dangerous climate that can lead to elderly abuse, neglect and exploitation."
Specific services the Area Agency on Aging's Senior Victim Advocate Program can provide to older citizens include:
- Information and referrals to community resources;
- Crisis counseling;
- Accompaniment to court-related activities and other types of criminal justice support to benefit victims;
- Assistance with property return, as well as other types of victim compensation.
Free Cell Phones for Seniors
An initiative to further protect the safety of older-aged crime victims is the Senior Victim Advocate Program's Safety Cell Phone Project. This initiative provides a free cell phone a senior can use for emergencies to access 911.
This program is made possible through donations of no-longer-being-used cell phones from the public. These phones are tested to see if they are usable for calling 911, and if so, are then distributed accordingly.
How You Can Help
"We have a real need right now for more phones. We especially want to have them for those people in particular who have been crime victims," she noted. Among South County locations where individuals can donate old cell phones they are no longer using include:
- Gulfport Senior Center (5501 27th Ave. S, Gulfport)
- Skyway Community Center (1065 62nd Ave.S)
- Maximo Community Center (4815 34th St. S)
- Barlett Park Community Center (642 22nd Ave. S)
- Area Agency on Aging (9887 4th St. N, Suite 100) in St. Petersburg
There are also two locations in Pinellas Park:
- Pinellas Park Senior Center (7625 59th St. N)
- Mainlands Clubhouse #1, 9650 Mainlands Blvd. W.
For more information:
To reach the Senior Victim Advocate Program, call the agency's Senior Helpline, 1-800-96-ELDER (1-800-963-5337).
Hours are Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. After hours and weekends, callers are instructed to leave a message or call 911 for an emergency.
Stallings concluded that "It is essential that anyone who suspects elderly abuse, neglect and exploitation to report this to the Department of Children and Families Hotline 1-880-96-ABUSE (1-800-962-2873). The call can be anonymous and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week."