The caretaker is a son or grandson, middle-aged, unemployed, sometimes addicted to heroin or methamphetamine.
At first he’s dependent on his mother or grandmother. But slowly the roles reverse and the elder relies on the caretaker for help with everything from grocery shopping to getting to doctor appointments. Then the caretaker starts to take advantage, stealing money from her bank accounts he now has access to and possibly, if confronted, becoming physically abusive.
That’s a classic profile for someone who commits fraud against the elderly, said Frankee Haynes, Victim Services administrator, Carson City Office of the District Attorney.
Last year, Haynes’ office worked on 64 cases involving elderly victims, a mix of fraud and abuse cases, some involving one or the other crime, other cases involving both. This year her office is on track for about the same number of cases.
About eight years ago, Haynes started up Stop Abuse of the Vulnerable and Elderly, or SAVE, a group of more than two dozen local agencies that work together to intervene in elder fraud and abuse cases and protect and provide services for affected seniors.
“The cases became so prevalent we developed the SAVE team,” said Haynes. “Ten years ago elder abuse wasn’t even common terminology.”
Haynes and others agree when it comes to fraud, Carson City’s seniors are most often exploited by family members, not hired caretakers or strangers perpetrating some kind of scam, although both those types of crimes occur, too.
“There are a lot of ways of getting scammed, but I see just as much if not more cases involving family members taking care of them,” said Morgan Tucker, detective, Carson City Sheriff’s Office. “Those are the sad ones. Someone they actually know has violated their trust.”
Tucker said a typical case involves a caretaker who has access to an elderly relative’s debit card to run errands for them. They’ll buy groceries, and get $100 back in cash and pocket it.
Or an elderly person with dementia may be persuaded to withdraw $500 from the bank for reasons made up by the caretaker.
“They’ll make the transaction, we’ll pull the video from the bank and it’s them, but they don’t know what they’re doing,” he said.
In other instances, the elderly person willingly gives up money to a caretaker for fear of losing his or her support.
The cases are often time-consuming, said Tucker, who spends about half his time on elder fraud work.
“It’s very labor intensive, a lot of looking through bank accounts and interviewing everyone involved,” he said.
Tucker said cases end up in the Sheriff’s Office via several ways. Most come from Nevada Department of Health & Human Services, Aging and Disability Services Division, Elder Protective Services, or EPS.
EPS will investigate a case brought to its attention and discover that it rises to the criminal level, says Tucker, so the agency will contact the Sheriff’s Office.
A case from EPS may have been referred by another family member or concerned neighbor or by the Carson City Senior Center, which is a mandatory reporter.
“We contact EPS at least once a month, maybe more,” said Courtney Warner, the center’s executive director.
Many of those cases come from the Meals on Wheels program, which delivers meals to homebound seniors.
Either case managers will see a problem on the initial or periodic intake interview or a driver will notice something new and troubling.
A client will suddenly be facing eviction when she should have the income to cover her monthly costs or someone new will be living in the house with little explanation.
“Usually they’ll get answers that don’t add up. That’s a red flag,” said Warner.
Seniors are also subject to well-publicized scams, although Tucker said it happen less often now.
“A lot of elderly are getting better at seeing scams,” he said.
Some of the scams — which are perpetrated on people young and old but disproportionately affect seniors — include a caller claiming to be from the Internal Revenue Service saying the person owes money.
In some cases, the person is told to buy thousands of dollars in eBay or Amazon gift cards. The scammer then gets the numbers off the cards and can either use them or redeem them for cash with any number of services that take a percent off the top.
“It is almost impossible to catch these people,” said Tucker.
Tucker calls some other ploys jackpot scams: the senior is contacted by email or phone and told they’ve won money but for some reason have to mail in a few thousand dollars first to collect their winnings.
“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” said Tucker.
Another scam the elderly are particularly vulnerable to, said Tucker, is one in which a caller claims to be a grandchild or someone else important who says he needs money wired to him to get out of jail.
What to do
In that case, Tucker’s advice is to always verify: stop and make a call to another family member to find out if it could be true.
“Be careful to make sure it makes sense,” he said. “If you spoke to your grandchild yesterday and today she’s in jail in Canada, it doesn’t make sense.”
Also, he said any phone call coming from a jail will always include a header, or recording before a person comes on the line. A scammer can’t duplicate that so if the header is missing it’s a scam.
Other things seniors should routinely do is ask for receipts, whether it’s from the grandson who did the grocery shopping or a contractor repairing the roof or mowing the lawn.
Other family members, too, if possible, should monitor the senior’s finances to make sure they’re not being overcharged or bilked.
“If you have a question call us, call dispatch at 887-COPS,” said Tucker.
Reach out, is what Victim Services’ Haynes wants elders to remember.
“Calling for help won’t take away their freedom or their liberties or anything else,” said Haynes. “There is help out there. There are a lot of things we can do so you don’t have to live under threat of harm or isolation.”