By Scott Spallina, Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney

In the last two issues of the magazine, I shared the lessons about elder abuse that I learned from the experiences of my mother-in-law, “Mary.”

As I have mentioned before, tragedies are the fuel for many a con and when my father-in-law had his stroke, my family nearly learned this lesson the hard way. Feeling overwhelmed by the magnitude of caring for another person 24/7 and the astounding costs of hiring care, Mary did what many people in her situation do — she tried to find ways to ease the burden and reduce care costs. For Mary, this meant hiring a caregiver from Craigslist. It is from this website — where anyone can post anything without any type of verification or assurances that the services or products advertised are legitimate — that Mary found a person claiming to be a caregiver. However, it was discovered that this person was a scam artist who would come into a home, slip and fall and sue the homeowner. Fortunately, this was discovered before any con was enacted.

At another time, my wife and I drove home to find Mary in her car patiently waiting to speak with her daughter. After a lengthy discussion, my wife came inside and revealed what was so important to Mary.

My mother-in-law was just informed that one could invest in the Iraqi currency (dinar) and make millions of dollars when their country became a world power. A “close friend” of hers gave her this information, but only if she promised to keep it a secret. Fortunately, she told my wife, who, in turn, told me. In less than 10 minutes, I found countless warnings on the internet from the FBI about the “dinar investing scam.” This was a typical scam — one that promised great wealth only if you kept it secret from those who could tell you the truth.

In recent years, Mary got involved in a scheme to get free homes from banks that were “acting unconstitutionally.” Once again, this scam began with a charismatic speaker holding information seminars about “our freedoms.” The speaker told attendees that banks don’t really own your house — therefore, you don’t have to pay your mortgage… Long story short, for two years, based on this erroneous information that cost thousands of dollars, my mother-in-law didn’t pay her mortgage. As a result, the bank started foreclosure proceedings against her. Mary was very close to losing her home.

Many victims of elder abuse are just like my mother-in-law — smart, loving and filled with a desire to care for their loved ones. They are not victims because of their greed; they are victims because they believed the promises that assured them that their loved ones would benefit and be taken care as a result of the bounty they acquired through special “opportunities.”

As is evidenced by my mother-in-law’s many experiences, if an opportunity sounds too good to be true, it is. Always seek advice from professionals and trusted loved ones about get-rich-quick money and property schemes. And never make an emotional decision that involves money.


To report suspected elder abuse, contact the Elder Abuse Unit at 808-768-7536  |  ElderAbuse@honolulu.gov

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