A special forum sponsored by the Ashe County Elder Abuse Prevention Team was held on Tuesday at Ashe Services for the Aging to raise awareness of financial exploitation of the elderly.
The 2012 Financial Exploitation Forum told several stories about how elders have been exploited and how to prevent these crimes. Several speakers gave presentations during the forum, including Ashe County Commissioner William Sands, who spoke on behalf of the sheriffs office.
“A few years ago, an FBI agent stated that people in the mountains of Western North Carolina were hit hardest by out of country scams. Our people are very trusting,” said Sands.
Sands also said “once money leaves the United States, any recovery is nearly impossible.”
After the meeting, Sands said there are several different ways for elders to lose money in scams.
“Investment/ponzi scams have taken life savings from a number of Ashe County citizens. One person was charged with taking over $250,000 and most were Ashe County victims,” said Sands.
In this case, the suspect did not come to superior court and was also charged with failure to appear in court. The police continued to search for him.
According to Sands, several residents have invested and lost money in ponzi scams originating outside of Ashe County. Black Diamond was operated from Ashe, but no investors were found in our county. Keith Simmons was sentenced to 50 years in federal prison after being convicted of financial crimes. Victims loss $40 million, said Sands
Sands also said lottery scams continue to be a problem. People are told they have won large amounts of money, sometimes in the millions.
At the same time, they receive counterfeit checks, ranging from a thousand to several thousand dollars. The victim is told to cash the check, wire the larger portion to pay taxes and handling and keep the smaller amount, said Sands.
The check bounces and the victim is responsible to the bank. The winner’s check never comes, said Sands.
“We see fewer people taken in by this scam than in the past. People have become more aware, and our local banks keep a close watch for these checks,” said Sands.
Within the past few months, people have been notified they are winners, but rather than wire large amounts of money for taxes, the request is to send only $20 which is used to verify the winner’s eligibility. Of course, the winner check never comes, only many unwanted scam letters, said Sands.
“People need to remember,” said Sands, “you should never have to pay for anything you have won.”
According to Sands, elders should be very careful when purchasing items through the Internet, such as ebay, Auto Trader and Craig’s List. “Most ads are legit, but some people never receive their purchase,” said Sands.
Identity theft was also mentioned and is a big concern, said Sands.
“Protect bank account and credit card information. Check or have someone check your monthly statements as soon as possible,” said Sands.
Concerns about home safety were also mentioned during Tuesday’s meeting. Don’t let people into your home without knowing them or verifying who they work for.
Sands also said elders should be aware when paying for home repairs before work completed.
David Kirkland, from the N.C. Attorney Generals Office, agreed with Sands and told a story about an unidentified elderly couple from Wake County that was exploited.
When the husband’s health began to weaken, he chose to stay home rather than move to a nursing home. To do this, the couple’s residence needed to be renovated into a more “elderly-friendly” dwelling.
The elderly couple contracted a repairman to fix the house. They spent $130,000 for renovations and received horrible repairs that made their home worse than before.
How did this happen? The wife was blind and had been since she was young. With her husband in bad health, the woman was unable to check the “repairman’s” progress due to her disability and ended up with a floor that wasn’t level, bad electrical work, and no kitchen for a year.
Fortunately for the couple, the Wake community heard about this case, pulled together, and rebuilt the elderly couple’s home.
According to the speakers at the meeting, exploitation of the elderly has been occurring more frequently, and greater awareness can help prevent these crimes.