In the D.C. area and across the U.S., scams against senior citizens are on the rise

Edward Beattie paid John Howard $4,050 for work on his roof, but Beattie's son says there's no evidence the work was done. Howard has been charged on eight counts in the Beattie case, including financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult and acting as a contractor without a license.
By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Murders and violent crimes are down around the Washington region and the country, but one kind of crime is rising steadily: scams against the elderly.

Senior citizens are reticent victims who avoid telling family members for fear of going to nursing homes, or don't even report swindles for fear of having to testify in court.

"There's just a low chance of getting caught and a high chance of getting into a lot of money," said Kathleen Quinn, executive director of the National Adult Protective Services Association.

Virginia's Adult Protective Services workers reported 756 cases of financial exploitation in the fiscal year that ended in June 2009, reflecting a steady rise since 2001, when there were 373.

In wealthy Montgomery County, 73 cases of financial exploitation were referred to the county's Adult Protective Services in fiscal 2009, compared with 47 in 2005 and 33 in 2000.

"These referrals represent the tip of the iceberg," said Bonnie Klem, chief of Montgomery's Adult Protective Services investigations. "Many more cases go unreported."

Senior citizens lose at least $2.6 billion a year to thieves, many of whom are in their own families, according to a study last year by the MetLife Mature Market Institute. And that estimate is conservative, MetLife says, given the schemes left unreported.

As the nation ages, the number of targets increases. By 2030, the United States will be home to 34 million people older than 75.

Officials in the District said the number of financial exploitations against older people has not increased, but more seniors are falling prey to offshore lottery-winning scams.

"There's absolutely more scamming going on," said Gail Nardi, head of adult services for Virginia's Department of Social Services. "It's outrageous to the point you say, 'Nah, that couldn't have happened.' But I see it every day."

She didn't have to look too far last month. A caregiver and a social worker at the Grayson County (Va.) Department of Social Services were charged with taking more than $24,000 from the bank account of an 89-year-old client who had gone to the agency for care and companionship.

Some cases get even bigger headlines.

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