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Health & Wellness News

‘The crime of the 21st century’: How to protect against elder abuse, whether physical, emotional or financial

Paul Greenwood
Will Oliver
/
LehighValleyNews.com
The event’s keynote speaker, Paul Greenwood, led the Elder Abuse Protection Unit at the San Diego District Attorney’s Office for 22 years.

CENTER VALLEY, Pa. — After a romance scam left then-Delaware County widow Kate Kleinert out of tens of thousands of dollars, she’s now using her story to help others avoid similar situations involving elder abuse.

“Losing the $39,000 was worse than I can tell you, financially,” Kleinert said.

“But losing that love that I thought I was having, losing that relationship, that new life I was going to have with the kids — that was terrible.”

It all started with a friend request on Facebook, leading to what she thought was a budding relationship with “a good, loving guy” who worked as a doctor and had two kids.

Kleinert said she was never blessed with having children herself, so it was all the more welcome.

Over time, requests for money came rolling in and her money started running out.

“Losing the $39,000 was worse than I can tell you, financially. But losing that love that I thought I was having, losing that relationship, that new life I was going to have with the kids — that was terrible.”
Kate Kleinert, someone who fell victim to a romance scam and financial elder abuse

She eventually had an air conditioning unit go out at home, one she wasn’t able to afford to get fixed.

After replacing the unit with what led to be a subpar model, the home caught fire, destroying all of her belongings and killing each of the six dogs in her hospice care.

And that didn’t stop the man from contacting her in need of money following the tragic event, saying he saw her friends were running a GoFundMe page to help Kleinert with her living expenses in the meantime.

Kleinert was just one of many speakers at Tuesday’s Safeguarding Seniors Symposium at DeSales University, honoring World Elder Abuse Awareness on June 15.

A room full of folks gathered for the afternoon to learn more about "the crime of the 21st century," also taking breaks for a few lighthearted rounds of Fraud Bingo.

'A serious and often hidden problem'

Clayton Reed, executive director of the Lehigh County Aging and Adult Services Office, shared a statistic from the National Council on Aging that shows about one in 10 Americans over the age of 60 have experienced some form of elder abuse.

He said that oftentimes the issue makes its way into the lives of “our loved ones, neighbors and friends,” and can include physical, emotional, financial and neglectful forms of abuse.

“Whether you are a family member, friend, neighbor, concerned citizen, you have the power to help prevent elder abuse and support those who may be suffering from this terrible, tragic thing in our society.”
Clayton Reed, executive director of the Lehigh County Aging and Adult Services Office

“Elder abuse is a serious and often hidden problem that demands our attention and action,” Reed said.

“ … Whether you are a family member, friend, neighbor, concerned citizen, you have the power to help prevent elder abuse and support those who may be suffering from this terrible, tragic thing in our society.”

Safeguarding Seniors
Will Oliver
/
LehighValleyNews.com
A room full of folks gathered for the afternoon to learn more about "the crime of the 21st century," also taking breaks for a few lighthearted rounds of Fraud Bingo.

‘Elder abuse thrives on silence’

The event’s keynote speaker, Paul Greenwood, led the Elder Abuse Protection Unit at the San Diego District Attorney’s Office for 22 years.

He’s prosecuted over 750 felony cases involving both physical and financial elder abuse.

“When I started to hear stories of people of my parent’s generation being exploited, targeted, defrauded, harmed, it really lit a fire inside me."
Paul Greenwood, former leader of the San Diego District Attorney’s Office Elder Abuse Protection Unit

It’s also quite sad that a lot of these cases fly under the radar, Greenwood said, adding that “elder abuse thrives on silence.”

“When I started to hear stories of people of my parent’s generation being exploited, targeted, defrauded, harmed, it really lit a fire inside me,” Greenwood said.

Keep an eye out

Greenwood shared a list of tips to stay ahead of elder abusers and scammers:

Staying safe at home, out and about

  • Choose caregivers carefully, never hiring through a newspaper ad or Craigslist 
  • Keep an inventory of all jewelry, locking it away when not being worn
  • Have security screens in addition to your front door
  • Just because someone with a high-vis vest is at the door saying there’s a problem with your plumbing doesn’t mean there’s necessarily anything wrong with your plumbing
  • Never pay more than 10% up front for any at-home service
  • Don’t leave pocketbooks or wallets unattended in shopping carts while at the store

Identity theft

  • Criss-cross shred any and all documents that list any kind of personal information 
  • Keep an eye on incoming and outgoing mail, especially when in an unlocked mailbox
  • Sign up for Informed Delivery services to know exactly what’s coming in the mail each day
  • Check envelopes in your incoming mail for blatant or sometimes even more subtle spelling errors

Phone scams

  • Don’t answer the phone when an unfamiliar number pops up on the caller ID
  • Be aware that artificial intelligence can mimic the voice of loved ones over the phone
  • “Don’t look for love in all the wrong places”: That attractive person wooing you online just may not be the person you think they are, especially when the requests for money come rolling in
  • The IRS and Microsoft will never call you
  • That niece or nephew you haven’t heard from in decades? Be wary if they pop up out of the blue asking for money — especially if they say they’re calling from jail and need bail money 
  • Stay cautious of unsolicited charities contacting you, especially if over the phone

Other gimmicks 

  • Beware of offers to update trusts and promises for a better return on investment
  • Don’t click on blue hyperlinks sent in text messages or emails from numbers or addresses you don’t recognize
  • Nobody actually wins a “foreign lottery”
  • Even the state lottery will always take taxes out of the winnings; there’s no need to wire money to “pay the taxes” and end up being scammed 
  • Beware of requests to pay for services using gift cards

Have you fallen victim to one of these scams? Greenwood said to notify local police of the problem.
And you don’t even have to be an AARP member to contact the group’s Elder Fraud Watch Network for help at 877-908-3360.

The U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging Fraud hotline can be reached at 855-303-9470.

Take a SKI trip

In closing, Greenwood said there comes a time when you may just deserve to treat yourself — not even allowing scammers access to potentially large sums of money acquired over decades of working.

He lightheartedly called these “SKI” trips, short for “spend kid’s inheritance.”

“You work long and hard for your money, and while you have it, while you have health and mobility, take advantage of that."
Paul Greenwood, former leader of the San Diego District Attorney’s Office Elder Abuse Protection Unit

That drew quite a laugh from the crowd.

“You work long and hard for your money, and while you have it, while you have health and mobility, take advantage of that,” Greenwood said.

Greenwood can be contacted at 442-257-2984, or at paul@greenwoodlawcorp.com.