Not everyone is a victim of financial elder abuse — but there’s a good chance everyone knows a potential target.
One professional who helps protect seniors from fraud contends almost every person knows somebody — a parent, grandparent, sibling, friend, acquaintance, co-worker and such — who could fall prey to financial scams or similar abuse.
And everyone should band together to fight the problem.
Serving Our Seniors executive director Sue Daugherty booked David Kessler for an upcoming seminar on crimes in which scammers, or even family members, financially exploit senior citizens. Kessler previously served as a police commander in a financial crimes unit near Atlanta, and he also worked as an investigator for the Ohio Attorney General.
Want to go?
WHAT: Protecting the Elderly, a free seminar where professionals can learn about financial abuse of the elderly
WHERE: Erie County Office Building, 247 Columbus Ave., Sandusky
WHEN: 11 a.m. March 27
WHO: Anyone with a direct role in helping the elderly — local law enforcement, doctors, physicians and workers in health care, social services and nursing
Through his research, he estimates one out of every five senior citizens nationwide has been financially exploited.
“It’s an epidemic not only in the state of Ohio but across this country,” Kessler said. “It’s not all of a sudden happening, but it’s exploding (and getting noticed more) because of education and knowledge”
Scammers swindle seniors in Erie County as well. Serving Our Seniors statistics show about 50 instances from October 2012 through September 2013 where someone tried to defraud or deceive an elderly resident.
“The victims are not dumb people” Kessler said. “It’s not their fault. We want to blame the victim for what happened, but that’signorance on the part of people who just don’t understand”
Many seniors feel embarrassed to report these crimes. Sometimes, they don’t inform authorities because a family member duped them.
And even when the crimes do get reported, law enforcement officials generally don’t take the complaints too seriously, Kessler said.
“You get more training for a traffic citation than dealing with financial elder abuse,” Kessler said. “You get zero amount of hours of training in a basic police academy dealing with crimes against the elderly”
Kessler’s presentation aims to enlighten local law enforcement and social service workers about the severity of these crimes.
“People who target and solicit the elderly are no different than predators who molest children,” Kessler said. “I deal with both types of predators, and they both display characteristics of power. One wants financial gain and the other wants sexual gratification. Everyone is outraged when someone victimizes a child, but why not a senior citizen?”
He wants to teach people how to handle these situations going forward.
“The No. 1 thing is to educate law enforcement,” Kessler said. “You need to understand the mindset of the victim. I’ve never seen a law enforcement person who wasn’t supportive of helping and doing everything they could for a victim. We are just giving them a different perspective of how to understand how the victim was taken advantage of”
Erie County Sheriff Paul Sigsworth already reserved a spot for the seminar.
“We are seeing more and more of these types of crimes where the elderly have been financially scammed,” Sigsworth said. “Most of it is going on over the Internet, and we are certainly aware of these issues, but it doesn’t hurt to become better educated about the issues”
Daugherty is pleased area professionals, such as Sigsworth, are voicing support for seeking out perpetrators who target seniors. Through educational programs, deputies and officers may become more adept at handling these situations.
“In our community, the problem is so severe that we have to figure out a way so all human service professionals know how to respond when they hear reports of financial elder abuse,” Daugherty said.