There are always two sides of the same coin. Social media has made it possible for everyone to stay more connected over the years and across the miles. It’s reconnected old friends and kept families close. Unfortunately, it’s also given scammers the ability to become more sophisticated and creative.
Last March, many witnessed the slap that was heard round the world. The unrehearsed and unscripted incident played out in front of the planet’s best actors, with 17 million viewers watching from home. It occurred in supposedly one of most civilized and curated places in the land. But everyone saw that even “winners” are not immune from knee-jerk reactions when messages perceived as offensive produce hurt feelings.
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.
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.
Senior advocates understand personal rights, elder abuse, consumer rights, the legislative process and how programs are funded. They also see that agencies correctly implement laws and draw attention to the ones needing changes. This article focuses on personal rights and elder abuse law.
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 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.
Only one out of every 44 cases of financial abuse among the elderly ever gets reported and even fewer make it to trial. This is the true story of one of those cases.
“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.