It wasn’t the mainland trainings or the thousands of cases I have handled that have given me the greatest insights into elder abuse. No. The best “teacher” I have had regarding dealing with the complexity and emotional stress of dealing with these crimes has been through helping my mother-in-law over the years. “Mary” (not her real name because my wife would be upset if I used it) is a sweet, trusting lady who seems to have a bright neon target on her forehead inviting scam artists to try and take advantage of her. After each encounter or near miss with a fraudster, I gained a deeper understanding of elder abuse.
One lesson my mother-in-law taught me was to beware of “friendly strangers.” There have been multiple instances of strangers approaching Mary inside a big-box store, following her out to her car, trying to engage her in small talk and asking if they could help her. Fortunately, Mary can’t tolerate dialogue that is not related to stopping land development or fluoridation of our drinking water. Her impatience to inane small talk and her stubbornness in accepting help from anyone has saved her and our family untold hardships by closing the door on potential encounters that could have developed into exploitation. If more seniors turned off the aloha (sometimes, being downright rude) to suspiciously friendly strangers, the many crimes I have prosecuted would never have happened.
The scam artists who have successfully taken advantage of my mother-in-law, however, have not been strangers who have approached her, but swindlers she unknowingly invited into her life.
Upon retiring from her job, Mary wanted to use her time to help family and friends. Unfortunately, this was around the same time people were talking about Y2K — the year was going to change from 1999 to 2000. Some thought the event was going to send civilization back into the Stone Age.
Mary met people who were “planning” for this much-talked-about apocalypse and were concerned enough about her to sell her end-of-theworld- proof supplies and advise her to cash in annuities and sell stocks. With the anxiety many people felt about this event supported by media hype, cons flourished. Countless people like Mary who were concerned about the safety and wellbeing of their loved-ones spent a lot of money preparing for a calamity that never happened.
What this taught me early on was that there are people who will use existing fears or create uneasiness themselves in order to cause people to make emotional decisions with their money. Similar to going into a car lot without doing research on the make and model you want, you allow the salesman the ability to ply you with emotional imagery of you behind a wheel of a vehicle not necessarily suited to your needs or budget. Spending money based on emotion rarely turn out well.
In the next issue, I will review my mother-inlaw’s encounters with a convicted felon, a disbarred lawyer and a group being watched by none other than the FBI.
To report suspected elder abuse, contact the Elder Abuse
Unit at 808-768-7536 | ElderAbuse@honolulu.gov