Crimes against vulnerable senior citizens on the Peninsula are on the upswing.
Financial scams are often deceptively simple. A young person in need asks an elderly person for an amount of money to help with a charity. The elderly person feels sympathetic and offers the young person help, but it’s a scam.
San Mateo County Adult Protective Services Manager Chris Rodriguez said such financial abuse toward the elderly has grown in the past few years.
“A lot of these cases aren’t small amounts of money,” he said. “They can be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
According to Rodriguez, 986 new cases were opened in fiscal year 2006-07 to investigate crimes against the elderly. In 2008-09, that number jumped to 1,134.
Of those 1,134 cases, Rodriguez said, 90 percent are financial crimes. The remaining 10 percent are physical abuse or neglect.
According to U.S. Bureau of Justice statistics, people age 65 and older are disproportionately affected by property crimes and theft.
The agency estimates that between 1993 and 2002, nine out of 10 crimes against elderly were property crimes.
Last month, a 62-year-old South San Francisco man was targeted by young people to donate money to their church. But after the man emptied his savings account, the churchgoers disappeared.
In 2007, Lazar Maksic was charged with pilfering $43,000 from his wife after he befriended her in a nursing home, married her and disappeared six months later. Maksic settled in February and served one year in jail.
South San Francisco police Sgt. Joni Lee said these scams are nothing new. She said a common scam is a claim that the target has won the lottery in another country but needs to pay the taxes on the winnings.
“[Victims] will think, ‘If I give them $8,000 for taxes but $50,000 in return, that’s good for me,’” Lee said. “But if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.”
Physical abuse also is a crime authorities watch for.
County Assistant District Attorney Karen Guidotti said family members are often the ones responsible in physical abuse cases.
This week, John Thomas Lyons was in San Mateo County court on charges that he allegedly neglected his 81-year-old disabled mother-in-law. Authorities found her in her home in July with bedsores, gangrene and rotting food around her. He was sentenced to 90 days in jail.
“All of these crimes can be charged under a certain penal code,” Guidotti said. “The serious physical abuse or neglect cases are targeted because of age or vulnerability.”
Spotting elder abuse
– Sudden changes in bank account or banking practice, including an unexplained withdrawal of large sums of money by a person accompanying an elder
– Abrupt changes in a will or other financial documents
– Unexplained disappearance of funds or valuable possessions
– Substandard care being provided or bills unpaid despite the availability of adequate financial resources
– Sudden appearance of previously uninvolved relatives claiming their rights to an elder’s affairs and possessions
Source: National Center on Elder Abuse