As senior population grows, so do frauds against them

Officials advise: when in doubt, speak out

American are getting older, and as they age, more and more are becoming targets of fraud.

Pleasanton is no exception. Nick Henley, a certified fraud specialist who volunteers at the Pleasanton Senior Center, calls the area "a target-rich community." Henley spent much of his career as an investigator with the IRS, and he's watched as the numbers of seniors who have been defrauded has grown.

"A lot of them are apprehensive about coming forward and talking about it. There's a little sense of guilt, because a lot of elder abuse comes from within, from family members," Henley said. "Some of the stuff that's going on that's involving their finances, you have a caretaker of family member that takes over as a signator on their account."

He said the most important thing for seniors to do if they suspect they're being victimized is to speak up.

"Don't be embarrassed. That's the big thing. Time and time again, I've talked to these folks and they say, 'I can't believe I'm doing this. My son-in-law or my daughter or my son is taking my money.'"

Frauds by family members are by far the most common way seniors are victimized. The National Center on Elder Abuse, part of the federal department of Health and Human Services, reports that family members account for 90% of financial fraud against the elderly.

That was the case with an Auburn man and his girlfriend, who were prosecuted for draining the bank account of the man's mother, an 86-year-old resident of Eden Villa Assisted Living on Mohr Avenue.

Mark Champlin, 61, was sentenced to 60 months in prison for bilking his mother out of her life savings, nearly a half million dollars.

Friends who gain the trust of an elderly person are also a concern to Henley, who said there are systems in place that watch out for suspicious actions against the elderly.

"Fortunately the local banks are really good about reporting this information to federal law enforcement," he said. "Banks have a suspicious activity report -- it goes to the FBI and the IRS. These forms, they document what occurs and what is said during a transaction. They're a really good source of leads on potential victim."

There are also county-based offices of Adult Protective Services that investigate reports of abuse of elders and dependent adults who live in private homes.

An APS investigation led to the arrest and the ongoing prosecution of a former captain in the Pinole Police Department and his wife. Matthew Messier and Elizabeth Regalado were charged with three counts of attempted grand theft, four counts of elder abuse, one count of forgery, one count of criminal conspiracy, one count of registering a fraudulent document, and a count of practicing law without a license.

The victim was 82 when the pair, her neighbors, were arrested. Messier drafted documents that included a quitclaim deed to the woman's home, power of attorney naming himself as trustee and sole beneficiary when she dies, according to court documents. The woman's home is worth between $500,000 and $700,000; she also has safe deposit boxes containing savings bonds, cash and gold worth more than $50,000.

An APS examination showed the victim is incapable of making financial decisions for herself.

Henley said a senior should speak up if she or he is being bilked by a family member or friend.

"I'd recommend that they go to a third party, go to a non-family member that they can trust, (or) go to the senior center," he said.


Like this comment
Posted by deborah
a resident of Ruby Hill
on Oct 20, 2013 at 8:15 pm

Great article, Mr. Wohltmann. I hope that the aging (aren't we all?) people who read it will take away from it the message that it is so very important to not be embarrassed, and to speak up, when someone has preyed upon and taken advantage of them, even when it is a member of their own family, or a trusted friend/caregiver. These types of shameful abuses will continue for as long as the abusers either think their victim does not understand what is happening, or they expect the victim to remain silent.

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Posted by D
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Oct 21, 2013 at 10:01 am

My sweet Mother in Law was a victim at a local care home of someone stealing personal information and tapping into her checking account, among other abuses. I cannot tell you the RAGE I feel against people who commit crimes against the elder. My dear MOL is with the Lord now and feel such anger every time think of what that person did to her. People, speak up if you think something is wrong or doesn't look right....if you have that gut feeling, your're probably right. Do not leave your loved on in someone else's care without checking on them regularly. Ask questions, don't be afraid to ask the tough questions, it's your loved one and you need to be the voice of those who feel they cannot speak for fear of retaliation.

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Posted by Sam
a resident of Oak Hill
on Oct 21, 2013 at 10:02 am

Kind of disturbing to read that family members are responsible for 90% of the financial fraud against the elderly. I always pictured the elderly being mostly scammed by unknown telemarketers or door-to-door salespeople. There's a special place in hell for someone who would bilk their own mother out of her life savings.

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Posted by Cholo
a resident of Livermore
on Oct 21, 2013 at 10:13 am

I know a few seniors who are very quiet. One belongs to a group that visits my home regularly and she works in my garden. We discuss current events and all of us are aware of various scams out there to screw us over. None of us have been scammed but we know that it's possible and that it can happen at any time.

We have a published list of emergency phone numbers - 911, police, fire department, medical emergency, road assistance, list of medications, directions to the nearest ER, animal medical care, important family contacts, etc.

It seems to me that many seniors discuss their concerns with family who often don't seem too concerned about what's being reported or they don't understand the problem.

I suggest that senior's maintain contact with local senior centers, supportive neighbors, and talk to family who take them seriously. I'm not shy and tell everybody what's happening.

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Posted by Cholo
a resident of Livermore
on Oct 21, 2013 at 10:37 am

Senior women/men also get raped: Web Link

Believe a senior if they report that they have been assaulted. Call the police immediately. And, have them transported to the nearest medical ER.

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Posted by Cholo
a resident of Livermore
on Oct 21, 2013 at 10:44 am

The harm done to seniors is why I WILL NEVER CONDEMN THE AMERICAN GUN LOBBY.

When push comes to shove, Americans have a right to bear arms and to protect themselves.

i rest my case...

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Posted by kriemhilt
a resident of another community
on Oct 22, 2013 at 8:55 am

It is not so easy to convince authorities to take your complaint seriously if one of their own is involved - amazing how police and city officials will only defend the officer, dismiss you as crazy, and actually refuse to allow you to even fill out a police complaint!
I am 74 years old and not in good health. My service dog, Paddy, a three year old AKC Labrador, managed to escape twice from the apartment complex I was living in, ended up in a Berkeley shelter whose animal control officers were friendly with an Emeryville police detective, and Paddy was illegally released to him, without regard to their own rules and without a required signature from me. I was bullied and criticized by the shelter. He knew within two days that the transaction was illegal but never responded even though I called him and told him I wanted my dog back. The shelter manipulated me, lied, and put false information their own documents... and the detective? Well, being a thirty year veteran policeman, he has used that privilege and has the support of not only his police department and city officials at Emeryville, but also of the police department in Berkeley.
This was nearly ten months ago and it has had a devastating effect on both my daughter and me -she bought me the dog when I began to notice signs of arthritis and had him trained.
Oh yes, when I finally got to speak to a female representative at the Emeryville Police Department, who would not give us her name and did not even like my daughter being present, I was told that I should get a 'new dog'.... I wonder if mothers whose children are stolen from them are told to 'get a new child.'
When I was young, my father, who was an SF fireman, told me to "ask a policeman for help" if I needed it...and in those days, policeman actually helped you when your dog was lost, they did not sneak away with it.

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Posted by mooseturd
a resident of Pleasanton Valley
on Oct 24, 2013 at 10:17 am

mooseturd is a registered user.

Some years ago my mother, then about 85 agreed via telephone to purchase a worthless coin for $3,000. The seller dispatched a runner to her home and collected the check. Within hours she felt remorse and told another family member what she had done. Some truly good police work recovered her money and turned it into a lesson for the residents at the assisted living facility where Mom lived.

Pay attention to money spent by a senior loved one.

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Posted by kriemhilt
a resident of another community
on Jan 20, 2014 at 8:50 pm

re: Paddy, my service dog (see above)

It amazes me how much police officers get away with, not all of course, but the sleazy few...three police departments have refused to allow me to file a complaint against the Emeryville officer and his wife who live in of these is the Pleasanton PD, another Emeryville PD, and another Berkeley PD, where my dog was illegally taken. I am being denied 'due process' and hope to take the entire issue to the State level soon as Alameda County, including the District Attorney's office, has completely ignored my pleas. However, the careless wife left her Facebook pages open to the public, and had numerous photos of Paddy in the Goodman household, conversations about having what they refer again and again to, as a 'rescue' and patting themselves on the back for being good Christians and kind people! Something else interesting is the wife claiming she was being offered a job at Santa Rita (!),,,,I thought there was a rather complicated process in applying for a position with the Alameda Sheriff's office but I guess being married to a police officer (recently promoted to sergeant!) gives one the inside track...

Like this comment
Posted by Grand Juror
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Jan 21, 2014 at 12:26 am

Report any corrupt public employee or unresolved issue to the county Grand Jury. Their office is a branch of the DAs office in the Alameda County Court House in Oakland. It's a slow process by unpaid appointees.

Like this comment
Posted by Sam
a resident of Oak Hill
on Jan 21, 2014 at 8:18 am

Scammers are getting trickier. Often they're now not trying the direct approach of trying to sell you something immediately, but rather masquerading as someone who is just trying to deliver you a "free" something sent by an anonymous "someone you know". No doubt there will be some sort of heavy charges that will suddenly appear if you fall for the hook. We got this (scam) phone message recently:

“Hi, uh, this is John from the shipping department of Emergency Medical Alert, I was calling to uh schedule a delivery of your medical alert system, it’s uh the “fallen, and I can’t get up” type of system you’ve seen on TV. Looks like the system’s been uh recommended by thousands of hospitals and medical professionals, uh, let’s see, says here that the system’s already been paid for. Looks like you’re getting the system because uh either yourself, a friend, a family member or maybe even someone you know has experienced a fall in the past so uh again it’s already been paid for so there’s no cost to your whatsoever. Also says here that the shipping has already been paid for so to uh schedule the delivery of your Emergency Medical Alert System press 1 uh again to uh have your system shipped out to you press 1 now…press 5 to decline the shipment of your system…."

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Posted by kriemhilt
a resident of another community
on Jan 28, 2014 at 10:19 am

Thank you, Grand Juror, will try that, too...after one year of trying to get Paddy back, so far no official in Alameda County wants any part of this. The Attorney General's office did write to tell me they would look into it, AFTER I had exhausted all avenues on the county level. Am also filing in Small Claims this week but not in Alameda County. I appreciate your suggestion and thanks again.

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