Imagine sending a substantial amount of money to help your grandson out of an emergency, only to find out later that your grandson is fine and never needed help. This is exactly what has already happened to seniors all over the country. Financial exploitation is the most common form of elder abuse in the United States, and “granny scams” are one of the most prevalent forms of elder exploitation. Seniors, and those who care for them, should heed the advice recently offered by the New Hampshire elder abuse prosecutor on the topic of financial abuse and elder scams.
Elder Exploitation Scams
Brandon Garod, the New Hampshire state elder abuse prosecutor told participant’s at a fraud prevention seminar recently that the only reason he has a job is because of the number of calls the attorney general’s office gets per week regarding scams and crimes against the elderly. “These are sharp people who work their wholes lives and just get stuck in these scams,” Garod said. “It happens every day.” As a prosecutor, he has first-hand knowledge of elderly victims who have lost their life savings, their vehicles, and even their homes because of a scam. One victim sent over $100,000 to a scam artist.
“Most of these scams are originating overseas,” Garod said. “In Jamaica, India, South America. It’s hard to arrest and prosecute these people, so we need to educate the public as much as possible. The best defense is having these conversations.”
The number of elder abuse cases and crimes perpetrated against the elderly has increased so much in recent years that an elder abuse and exploitation unit was formed last July specifically to combat elder abuse. The unit consists of Garod and a victim advocate, Sunny Mulligan Shea. James Boffetti, senior assistant attorney general, said the unit prosecutes various crimes against the elderly, including theft by deception, financial exploitation and abuse. Sadly, the unit is currently prosecuting its first negligent homicide case out of Exeter. In that case, an elderly woman was allegedly neglected by family members, resulting in her death.
While abuse of the elderly can occur under any circumstances, statistics tell us that as much as 90 percent of the time the perpetrator is a family caregiver. It is just this situation that a new New Hampshire law was passed to address. As Boffetti said, “I think it’s helpful to distinguish between two different types of fraud. The first is this anonymous, stranger-type fraud. Phone scams, mail scams that target the elderly. The other type of elder financial fraud, which is what the new statute in New Hampshire targets, is people who have some fiduciary responsibility for the senior. It’s a trusted relative, guardian, co-signer on an account, someone who is trusted to help the elder person manage their affairs. The new statute passed a few years ago basically states if you are a fiduciary, you are responsible for safe-guiding the funds of the elderly person, and if you use that money for something other than the elderly person’s benefit, that is potentially a crime.”
One particularly cruel scam investigators and prosecutors frequently come across is the “grandparent scam.” This scam involves a perpetrator calling an older individual where a caller pretends to be someone’s grandchild, saying they are in trouble and need $2,000. “The grandparent one is one of the most successful ones we see,” Garod said. “We see this all the time and it blows my mind it’s so successful. Through obituaries, Facebook, social media, they are able to get a lot of information about you before they get you on the phone. They will know your grandson’s name, where he lives, who his significant other is.”
Garod said Facebook privacy settings are important, as a scammer can use one public account to infiltrate information from others. “Imagine you get the whole family together for Easter,” he said. “You take a big family picture, one person posts it on their Facebook account and tags every single person. If any of those people don’t have their privacy settings on, a scammer could potentially get an entire family tree.”
Unfortunately, the vast majority of scammers are operating overseas and ghosting their numbers to look like 603 or New England-area numbers; however, some copy cats, mostly from Massachusetts, have been caught and are currently being prosecuted. Depending on the charges and the amount of money, a convicted scammer could serve 3 to 15 years in state prison.
Both Boffetti and Garod encourage those suspecting some type of elder abuse to call the unit’s hotline at (800) 949-0470. For more information, visit the Elder Abuse and Financial Exploitation page on the Department of Justice website.
If you have questions or concerns about elder abuse, contact the experienced New Hampshire elder law attorneys at DeBruyckere Law Offices by calling (603) 894-4141 or (978) 969-0331 to schedule an appointment.