The most common types of elder abuse cases in San Mateo County involve neglect or financial abuse, according to Greg Giguiere, an inspector with the District Attorney’s Office specializing in elder abuse.
“Actual true physical abuse cases thankfully are low, but we do see overwhelmed caregivers who get to a point where they just can’t care for someone and maybe they become a little apathetic,” Giguiere said in the fifth episode of “Real Talk San Mateo,” an ongoing dialogue about policing in the city created by the San Mateo Police Department. Posted last week, the fifth episode is called “A Senior’s Perspective on Policing.”
Giguiere said financial abuse cases often occur after financially insecure seniors enlist someone to help.
“Many of our seniors of San Mateo County are sometimes house rich, but cash poor and living on Social Security,” he said. “So they bring someone in to assist them with that and that person takes advantage of that position of trust.”
Often the culprit is a family member or caregiver and often they’re not, Giguiere said, noting many seniors are isolated and their family members are far away.
Giguiere said the most common types of scams are internet-based ones. He set the stage for those types of crimes by describing a lonely senior who is tech savvy and spends a lot of time on the internet.
“During that time they’ll see a financial opportunity that just seems too good to be true. Well it is too good to be true,” he said. “Eventually they’ll get prompted through these internet connections to ‘hey I need some money.’”
Giguiere said fraudsters often pose as a senior’s grandson and ask for money, an IRS agent insisting a payment us due or a prospective date on an online dating website. Gift cards or requests to wire money are often part of the scam, he added.
“Wiring money we’ve seen quite often in romance scams [on dating websites],” he said. “This person could be very vulnerable and they get a personal connection with someone they’ve never met and they believe they’re in love and will have this long-term relationship. Then [that person] slowly starts asking for money, for loans, for investments and they start wiring that money and transferring it away.
“Once that money is wired and transferred and it goes overseas and it starts to get washed it’s very difficult to get that back,” he continued. “It’s not impossible so it’s always important to report and investigate that and take that as far as we can.”
Giguiere said in romance scams the person one might think they’re communicating with has also been the victim of identity theft.
“The pictures you’re seeing, the information you’re getting back from these various websites typically the person on the other side has been the victim of identity theft and not the person you think you’re talking to,” he said. “Typically it can be a group that’s not locally based. It’ll be someone out of the area counting on the fact that they’re scrubbing their identity to the point where it’s difficult to find out who they are.
“And they’re very successful,” he added. “It’s a billion-dollar industry.”
Giguiere advised seniors to refrain from responding to unexpected emails, particularly if they claim to be representing that senior’s bank. He suggested ignoring the suspicious email and instead reaching out to the bank directly to verify the request.
He also said seniors need to reach out for help when they need it and take advantage of the many resources that are available.
“If something sounds too good to be true reach out to the important people in your life,” he said. “If they’re not available contact your local police department, contact Aging Adult Services, contact the DA’s office. We’re here to help in any way or fashion we can. It’s not just to report crimes.”