BROOKSVILLE — That the elderly, and especially older live-alone women, are most vulnerable to financial exploitation, may come as no surprise to many.
That the perpetrators of such crimes are often trusted family members and not strangers running some credit card fraud operation overseas should make people stop and think.
That was one of many messages and suggestions offered by Detective Irene Gray of the Hernando Sheriff's Office last week at a seminar at Spring Oaks Assisted Living Facility called Exploitation and its Warning Signs.
Gray said that when relatives have access to bank account numbers or when they have been given a power of attorney, usually for an elderly or disabled person, beware is the watchword.
"Some of us are a little too trusting," she cautioned.
In choosing someone to give power of attorney, Gray added, "Get someone you really trust." In drawing up an agreement, she added, "Make sure it can benefit only you."
The detective noted a case her agency is investigating in which a woman gave authority to another person to pay her bills only to have that person take all of the woman's certificates of deposit, checking account funds and insurance.
"The victim didn't even know (about the thefts) until it was all gone," Gray said.
The Sheriff's Office's four-member economic fraud unit usually is investigating six cases at any one time, the eight-year veteran detective said.
She also warned of fast-growing incidence of identity theft and identity fraud.
Gray spoke of a recent spate of mailbox robberies in Spring Hill, in which the thieves were looking for bank account and credit card numbers so they could later tap into them.
"Call your bank," if you suspect you've been such a victim, Gray said. "You must report it, too, to the sheriff's department. Even if the bank works it out, we need to get it for statistical purposes."
From the audience, Bob Baine of Spring Hill said he once found a trip to England, including air fare, on his credit card. Problem was, he was not the traveler.
His credit card issuer rectified the matter.
Ellen Eckstein of Spring Hill noted, "Every year I get small charges (on my credit card) that I didn't make."
The detective responded, "For a few dollars, we can't charge them for theft but we can charge them for fraudulent use."
On another level, Gray said, "It's hard to prove exploitation." It comes into play only when the victim is elderly, of diminished decision-making capacity or disabled, she said.
Such victims, especially single women living alone, are prime prey for dishonest repairmen and handymen, building contractors and yard workers.
Gray told of an incident in which a tree trimmer offered to remove the Spanish moss from a woman's trees. He did the work for an agreed upon price.
Later, he told her he was sick, and bilked her and her neighbors out of thousands of dollars.
Beth Gray can be contacted at [email protected]