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