In the 1960s, there was a game show called “What’s My Line?” that featured a panel of four celebrities who would try to guess what line of work a guest on the show was in. This panel would ask Yes/No questions about the individual’s career and every time the answer was No, the guest would win a small amount of money. It was very entertaining watching the panelists guessing if someone was an airline pilot or a rocket scientist. Often their guesses hinged on how a particular person looked or their confidence when they gave an answer.

We often have these preconceived notions of who people are by how they dress or speak to us. I see this each time I give a presentation and ask the simple question, “What does a con artist look like?” The answers I receive are oftentimes humorous. Descriptions of used car salesmen and politicians are shouted out, with visuals of “shifty eyes,” bad toupees, rapid speech, and loud aloha shirts added in for effect. Audience members are confident they would be able to clearly spot a criminal if they were to meet one.

When I tell of the cases the Elder Abuse Unit has prosecuted over the years, and relate who the perpetrators of these crimes were, the audience becomes unsure of their scam artist radar. They sit in disbelief hearing of the daughter who took $200,000 from her mother, leaving her unable to pay the mortgage and facing foreclosure. Or the caregiver who stole all the wife’s jewelry when she was hired to care for the disabled husband. Or the pleasant woman who simply walked into the house of an elderly couple in ‘Aiea and pretended to know them, distracting the couple while her husband entered the home and took items from the bedroom.

Over and over, I hear from victims about how nice the criminal looked or how polite he sounded over the telephone. Or maybe they felt sorry for him because of the sob story he told. Con men do not wear black cowboy hats to signify they are the bad guys. Oftentimes they are only revealed to be dishonest after the crime has been completed.

It’s difficult, however, to go through life being paranoid, suspecting every stranger you meet as having criminal intent.

Here are some simple ways to safeguard yourself from being a victim:

• When hiring someone for a job, get a written contract and include any spoken promises in it.
• Hire a licensed worker and verify their license by calling 808-587-4272.
• Check references.
• Don’t rush into a deal; if they can’t wait 24 hours something is wrong.
• Be comfortable saying “no thank you” and hanging up the phone or shutting the door immediately. (You may feel this is being rude, but a common tactic for shysters is to make you feel guilty for asserting yourself).


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

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