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Seniors warned of increasing scams

By Paul J. Nyden

Patrick Jacobs, a Charleston lawyer, spoke Monday about what happened to his late father.

“He was 83 and living independently in Kanawha City. When he went to a local grocery store, on its advertised senior discount day, he parked and a man jumped into his car,” Jacobs said. “He got my father so intimidated that he drove to a bank and withdrew $2,500 to give to this guy.

“He said to my father, ‘If you tell the police, or if you tell your family members, I will harm you.’”

Jacobs was one of several people sharing stories of elder abuse and scams at a panel organized by Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., at Tiskelwah Senior Center on Charleston’s West Side on Monday afternoon.

Jacobs said the man called his father again after he had been arrested on other charges, asking him for money to get out on bail.

When Charleston police identified Mullens, he was arrested and later sentenced to 25 years in jail.

“Elderly people get confused,” Jacobs said. “This was a terrible tragedy. If a business advertises Tuesday as ‘Senior Citizen Day,’ they should have extra guards and police around.”

Paulette Justice of Kanawha Valley Senior Services said, “We get calls every day from somebody who has become scammed.”

Marty Wright, a deputy state attorney general, said tricking senior citizens is getting worse and more extensive.

“People hide behind technology” and it is harder to identify them, Wright said, mentioning a recent scam by a group posing as Verizon, the major telephone and wireless company.

“They pretend to be Verizon, If you go to their website and log in, they can get access to all your personal credentials,” Wright said. “They will prey on those less knowledgeable about technology.”

In some schemes, Wright said, “people call you and say, ‘I am locked in jail. You need to help me pay my bail.’ But if you send them money, you will never see it again.”

Many victims, Wright said, get “‘embarrassed and will tell no one about it. That is the worst thing.”

Capito urged people to be careful when they use computers. “You get e-mails from a website, then log on. Then they can put a ‘cookie’ on your computer” and track all your information.

“Don’t even click on a link,” Capito said, when any website looks suspicious, especially on messages in your e-mail boxes.

Roger Topping, an administrator at Princeton Health Care in Princeton, said, “Our biggest abusers are families of people in our nursing homes. They take their relatives’ checks. Loved ones are not treated very well.”

Because of scams, Topping said, his company has “thousands of dollars write off. Once a relative came into one of our nursing homes and took a right off of Grandma’s finger.”

After an investigation, Topping said, they got the older women’s ring back. “I don’t call these things scams. I call them outright thievery.”

Today, 51 percent of people who perpetrate financial fraud on seniors are strangers, 34 percent are family members or friends, 12 percent are businesses and 4 percent are medical companies, according to Metropolitan Life Insurance Company.

Guy Johnson, from City National Bank, “We are all likely to be impacted. Personal information from checks could turn into a really bigger issue.”

Johnson and other panel members urged people not to send checks to groups they never heard about before receiving letters or e-mails.

Gaylene Miller, director of West Virginia’s chapter of the American Association of Retired Persons, said, “This affects millions of people. Of all West Virginians over 45, 70 percent support additional law enforcement to protect people.

“Every two seconds, someone gets their identity stolen,” Miller said.

During Capito’s meeting, the AARP Fraud Watch Network passed out pamphlets offering a variety of information to avoid getting caught up in scams. More information can be accessed at www.aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork. To learn more about identifying and reporting frauds, people can also call the AARP Fraud Fighter Call Center at 1-977-908-3360.

Reach Paul J. Nyden at pjnyden@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5164.


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