ASHLAND - For several years, an elderly woman in Columbus thought she was in a loving relationship with a man she met online.
It wasn't until she ran out of money and was threatened with eviction that she realized she was the victim of a scam.
As part of Ashland County's Elder Empowerment Month and part of the Seniors and law Enforcement Together program, a representative from the Ohio Attorney General's Office spoke to seniors recently about how to prevent, recognize and halt elder fraud crimes against themselves or loved ones.
Though she touched on familiar topics like phone scams and phony charities, Elder Services Coordinator April Wehrle of the Ohio Attorney General's Office's Elder Justice Initiative emphasized that 90 percent of crimes of abuse against older adults are perpetrated by someone the victim knows, loves and trusts.
These perpetrators may be family members, partners, caregivers (both paid and unpaid), faith leaders or strangers who have become "friends."
One senior who attended the event described how she recently discovered money missing from her bank account and how she suspected her grandson was involved.
Sadly, Wehrle said, the woman's experience is not uncommon. Elder abuse is likely to be a process, not an event, Wehrle said.
Abusers are likely to exploit trust, dependency and fear to gain control over a victim. They look for vulnerabilities, such as social isolation, dementia or even bereavement, Wehrle said, adding that some bad actors will even check obituaries to find widows who may be their next victim.
Wehrle made sure the seniors understood that just because they make someone a power of attorney or give someone limited, temporary access to a debit card or account, it does not mean that person can use the elder's money for unauthorized purposes.
If you suspect an older adult may be a victim of financial exploitation, Wehrle recommends asking the following questions:
- Who manages your money day to day?
- Do you run out of money at the end of the month?
- Do you regret or worry at the end of the month?
- Do you worry about financial decisions?
- Have you given power of attorney to another person?
- Do you have a will?
- Has anyone changed it?
If the older adult is unable to answer these questions, Wehrle suggested having the elder evaluated by a medical professional.
The following brochure provides additional information about how to prevent, recognize and respond to elder fraud.
To report suspected elder abuse in Ohio, call 1-855-644-6277. In Ashland County, reports can be made by calling 419-282-5000.
Additional resources for older adults and caregivers are available through the Ashland County Council on Aging by calling 419-281-1477.