Recently, I appeared on the Generations Radio Show (Saturdays from 5 to 6 pm on AM 690) aired November 22 and can be heard at with Lt. John McCarthy of the Financial Crimes Unit of the Honolulu Police Department. With 39 years of police department experience, he is nationally recognized as an expert in financial crimes and elder abuse.

On the show, we discussed how scams go undetected because people don’t recognize the warning signs of trouble and abuse. Listed here are danger signals, that if seen, should prompt further investigation.

Isolating the victim: Abusers don’t want the victim to have a support system and will either try to physically remove the person from loved ones (like a caregiver not letting family members visit the elder) or deceive the victim into thinking that a concerned person is really trying to harm them (like one sibling telling the parent that the other sibling is interfering because he wants everything himself).

Secrecy: A lot of scams involve instructing the victim not to reveal that the transaction/event is occurring. For example, a letter indicating that a senior has won the lottery will instruct the “winner” not to tell anyone of the prize because “there are a lot of scams going on right now.”

Urgency: People who are rushed or under pressure make poor decisions. Scammers will make an offer, like “I’m in the neighborhood today with some extra building materials — I can do some repairs really cheap if you hire me right now.”

Emergency/tragedy: Emotional decisions are not the best ones and scammers want you to make choices when you are not thinking rationally. The “Distressed Relative Scam” (or “Grandma Scam”), when you get a frantic call in the middle of the night relating that a loved-one is in dire straits and only money can solve the problem, is a good example of this technique.

Green Dot/money pack cards: A Green Dot/Moneypac card is a gift card you purchase and place money into at the cash register. It is a common way criminals transfer money from their victims into accounts around the world. ANY transaction in which money is to be paid using a Green Dot card should be suspect, for instance, the IRS calling and demanding payment for delinquent taxes with a Green Dot card.

Loneliness: Companionship (or the hope thereof) in exchange for money is never a good idea. Whether it is “your soulmate” you found on an online dating site asking for a loan or a caregiver accepting generous gifts to stay longer, taking advantage of an elder’s loneliness is abuse. 

Too good to be true: Offers, promises, business deals and investments that sound too good to be true are just that and are merely bait to lure victims into making poor decisions.

If you suspect elder abuse, first call 911 and then report it to the authorities listed below.

To report suspected elder abuse, call police, 911, and/or:
Elder Abuse Unit: 808-768-7536
Adult Protective Services: 808-832-5115