Area Seniors Vulnerable To Financial Exploitation

Cases of seniors being targeted and financially exploited by scams and family members remain pervasive in Chautauqua County, according to local officials.

In 2016, there were 75 complaints of financial exploitation reported to the county’s Adult Protection and Elder Abuse Prevention intake, making it one of the most prevalent forms of elder abuse in the area.

That being said, many incidents are thought to be unreported. According to the National Adult Protective Services Association, one in every 20 victims admit to having been exploited in the recent past, but only about one in 44 cases of financial abuse is ever reported.

A big reason, according to Leanna Luka-Conley, county deputy commissioner of social services, is that financial exploitation is often carried out by family members, many of whom live with and support the victims they exploit.

Not only do some seniors suffer from physical and cognitive disabilities that make them unaware of any such crimes, but others may simply refuse to press charges against their loved ones.

“This is what makes it so complicated,” Luka-Conley said. “We’ve had some pretty bad cases in Chautauqua County … like (a victim) receiving a pension and then family members taking more than half of that pension away … and sometimes, victims don’t want to press charges because it’s family.”

Some victims, of course, may be too ashamed to report they’ve been cheated.

According to Kayleah Feser, county health department official and coordinator of the Elder Abuse Enhanced Disciplinary Team, the combination of an aging and growing Baby Boomer generation — particularly those who are socially isolated– and a myriad of Internet, phone and fast money schemes, creates a “perfect storm” for fraudsters, one in which seniors are all too willing to trust others with their time and money.

“We see a lot of seniors in these cases that are socially isolated and really depend and trust the people exploiting them because they might be the only people that are paying any attention to them,” Feser said.

One such case involved a local woman who reportedly cleared out her bank accounts, sending cash in envelopes to what she thought was Western Union.

“The people that were (scheming) her were giving her time and attention that she wasn’t getting from other people,” Feser said.

County officials were notified of the exploitation only after a member of the post office reported it — something which Luka-Conley praised.

“It really boils down to the community getting involved,” she said. “We would not have known about that case if the post office didn’t realize this woman was sending tons of cash in envelopes. That’s why it takes people coming together to protect our vulnerable population.”

Education and awareness, she added, is key.

Last year, many local residents were hounded by callers claiming to be from the IRS. The calls were reportedly intimidating and demanded payment or personal information from victims. Indeed, the Jamestown Police Department reported an investigation involving a victim sending more than $4,000 worth of money orders to Las Vegas, Nev.

Local police agencies have repeatedly warned residents not to give out any personal information or make a payment to these callers and recommends hanging up on them.

If financial exploitation is suspected, the public is asked to contact their local police agency or Adult Protection and Elder Abuse Prevention Intake and Referral at 661-7447.