When Hiroko hired a healthcare agency to assist her in caring for her husband, she trusted that the company would provide her with caregivers who were responsible and professional. Unfortunately, this agency sent a “caregiver” who helped herself to Hiroko’s jewelry. This is only one of many cases of caregiver abuse handled by the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney, but it highlights the need for people to become aware of the risks involved when hiring a stranger as a caregiver.
I recently received a telephone call from my mother. Given that I was in a meeting, I didn’t answer it, but instead let it go to voicemail. Almost immediately, the phone started buzzing again from her same number. Usually, my mom would just leave a message, so this second call was very unusual. I excused myself from the meeting and answered the call. Mom immediately asked, “Scott, are you in jail?”
In the dozen-plus years I have specialized in prosecuting elder financial fraud cases at the Prosecutor’s Office, it has become pretty easy for me to spot and disassemble how the majority of scams work. Like how a master chef can taste a dish and tell you the ingredients he tastes, I can smell a “business opportunity” or a get rich quick scheme and identify the individual parts of it that will reveal it to be an actual scam.
In a sympathy scam, a con artist plays on the victims’ emotions in order to extract money from them. Typically, you see a lot of these scams stemming from a tragedy that is highly publicized.
Recently, I received a call from a woman who wanted to report that her father had been the victim of theft. The culprit was her niece, who had taken over $100,000 over a three-year period. The caller had the evidence and her father now wanted to hold the niece accountable for what she had done. However, the only problem was that the crime was outside the statute of limitations.
When there are secrets within a family, it has been my experience that no good has ever come from them. Now, I am not talking about secrets that a family might keep from non-family members, such as, grandma is a witch and Uncle Joe has 12 toes, but secrets family members keep from each other.
In the last couple of months, I have had two people come to my office because they were not millionaires yet. You see, they each had won the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes (PCH) and had not received their monies yet.
As I indicated in the last issue, under Hawaii Revised Statute §514E-9, timeshare companies are required to give clients all information regarding the unit for purchase, including all the fees attributed to that unit that are due immediately and the “hidden” fees that require seemingly endless future payments — the monthly mortgage, property tax, maintenance fees and interest.
It’s not uncommon to see advertisements promoting timeshares, as well as promotions for timeshare cancellation programs. The contradictory nature of these ads begs certain questions:..
My wife loves free things. When we go to any expo at the Hawaii Convention Center or the Blaisdell, she’ll be the one hoarding free pens and reusable bags. So, I should not have been surprised when she stopped at a table run by a hotel chain that was offering a free dinner, six hours of validated parking in Waikīkī and a two-night stay at a hotel. According to the salesman, all we had to do was review a hotel from pictures they would show us. The whole process would take only 120 minutes (not two hours?).
You would not place a welcome mat outside your car for criminals or hire someone to waive around a sign by your vehicle saying “steal this,” but that is exactly what many drivers do when they leave their keys in their vehicles. As a prosecutor, no crime gets me more upset than one that could have been easily prevented.
I was a guest on “Generations Radio,” AM 690, on Nov. 22, 2019 with Lt. John McCarthy of the Financial Crimes Unit of the Honolulu Police Department. The 39-year department veteran is nationally recognized as an expert in financial crimes and elder abuse. On the show, we discussed how scams go undetected because victims don’t recognize the warning signs of abuse. What follows are danger signals that should prompt further investigation…
In the last year, Americans received about 5 billion robocalls per month, up from the 2 billion a month just two years ago. Robocalls are automated calls made by a computer program, enabling the telemarketer or scammer on the other end to call multitudes of phone numbers in a short span of time. It took me under five minutes of “Googling” to find a website and fill out a form to order robocalling software that I could use to dial hundreds of telephone numbers an hour.
My office has received an increase in calls from parents, siblings or other relatives trying to kick an adult child out of their house. Often, the caller has already requested that the child leave, only to receive an adamant “no” from the unwelcome person. In one instance, a mother was selling the home that she loved to move into a small, one-bedroom apartment, hoping her son would not be allowed to live there.
The term “stealing home” is associated with baseball. It occurs when a runner is on third base and uses guile, speed and luck to make a dash for home plate to score a run. This usually happens when the runner takes advantage of the pitcher being distracted. In the Elder Abuse Unit, however, my team has come to know the term in a different context. We have seen situations when a homeowner literally has had their residence stolen.
It’s expensive living in paradise. It’s really expensive aging in paradise. Many seniors have had to resort to relying on the “cash economy” to help them out. “Cash economy” is the term used to refer to hiring or purchasing things“ under the table” or with cash so that there is no paper trail and therefore no taxes have to be paid.
It is only by knowing what is going on in our parents’ and grandparents’ lives that we can prevent certain abuses from occurring. Get involved and find out your loved one’s routine. Talk to them. Any deviation from their norm may be a warning sign to you that they are being targeted for a possible scam.
When my father-in-law “Gramps” had a stroke, he spent time at the hospital, rehab, and then a nursing home, before finally being able to return to his house. During those months of recovery away from home, my family made every effort to visit him daily. Between my wife, brother-in-law, mother-in-law and myself, we were pretty successful in making sure he would have the company of a loved one every day.
If I were to open a crime college, a place to learn the fine art of thievery, one class that would assuredly be on the curriculum would be Advance Fee Frauds, commonly known as sweepstakes and lottery frauds. This con involves the victim being told the lie that money is coming their way (usually from lottery winnings, insurance refunds or inheritance) but a fee/tax/processing charge has to be paid first to receive it. This one scheme is responsible for more money being stolen in Hawai‘i than any other crime.
“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.
I have been with the Prosecutor’s Office now for over 22 years, and 10 years ago created the Elder Abuse Unit. This unit was the first (and still is the only) team in Hawai‘i dedicated to prosecuting felony offenses where the victims were 60 years of age or older.
On average, I get one to three calls a day from the public seeking advice about elder abuse. Fortunately, only about 20 percent of the calls involve matters needing my office’s involvement. The rest are from people that see “elder abuse” in our name and hope we can help with their situation.
In the last issue, I covered the lessons my mother-in-law, “Mary,” taught me through her encounters with various scam artists she has met over the years. Unfortunately, those incidents were only the tip of the iceberg.
Hiring Strangers as Caregivers by Scott Spallina, Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney from the Oct-Nov 2016 issue of Generations Magazine, Hawai‘i’s Resource for Life
Drive-By Victims: Homeless Seniors by Scott Spallina, Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney from the August-September 2016 issue of Generations Magazine, Hawai‘i’s Resource for Life
Stop Being an Easy Victim by Scott Spallina, Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney from the June-May 2016 issue of Generations Magazine, Hawai‘i’s Resource for Life