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April 22, 2013

Senior Citizens Learn to Outsmart Crooks at Victim Rights Seminar


By Jeri Packer
Staff Writer
April 19, 2013

They target the vulnerable, the “easy marks,” stripping them of their life savings if they can.

Groups like the St. Clair County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office of Victim Rights and the Council on Aging, serving St. Clair County assist seniors all year round to help them live full lives, despite the challenges of aging.

National Crime Victims’ Rights Week is an annual event that promotes victims’ rights and services. The focus during last week’s observance was New Challenges/New Solutions, centering on senior citizens’ issues. Elder abuse schemes are as numerous as ever. To combat these plots targeting the elderly, several county agencies sponsored a “Protecting Our Seniors” seminar.

The seminar was sponsored by the St. Clair County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office of Victim Rights, Council on Aging, Sheriff’s Department and the Port Huron Police Department.

Speakers were experts on elder abuse issues and discussed senior citizens’ susceptibility to physical, emotion and financial abuse, said Victim Rights Coordinator Sheryl Eckert.

Eckert said there are many elderly victims who remain undetected by the Victim Rights office until the sheriff or police get involved. In these cases, the agency can step in and volunteer their services to people who have been taken advantage of and demoralized.

“Crimes against seniors are significantly under-reported,” Eckert said. “They like their independence and don’t want to admit they were taken advantage of.”

At the seminar, speakers talked about current scams to look out for, said Eckert. In one such scheme, a charlatan duplicates the Internal Revenue Service website and sends a message that says someone will get “x” amount of dollars if they fill out the form, she said. Then the victim unknowingly gives out their personal information, including their social security number, while filling out the fake form.

St. Clair County Det. Kelsey Wade, a speaker at the seminar, said her contribution was to “help this vulnerable adult community preserve financial well-being and make sure they sustain their quality of life.”

She warned against participating in a scam that claims a prize can be claimed if money is first sent to secure it.

“Always check with somebody first or call the sheriff’s department to verify it is valid,” she said. The St. Clair County Sheriff’s Office contact number is (810) 987-1700.

Sr. Assistant Prosecutor John Walke talked about probate court and wills and how putting off getting affairs in order can ultimately leave a person vulnerable in their latter years.

“In elder abuse — from a legal perspective — one of the ways they make themselves vulnerable is because they don’t plan ahead, making some plans to protect themselves later on,” he said.

For the last three years, the Council on Aging of St. Clair County has been able to give Safe Horizons a grant to fund a new resource to the aging community.

“It’s a fantastic use of dollars to help this vulnerable population,” said Safe Horizons Executive Director Sarah Prout.

One senior she recalled didn’t have a copy of her birth certificate and couldn’t get any services. Safe Horizons was able to intervene and get her the assistance she needed.

Although the majority of seniors Safe Horizons help are women, about 35 percent are men. They might need the services of a case manager, placement into senior housing, lessons in financial literacy or an eviction of an abusive grandchild or partner from their home, she said. They may need counseling to help them to put up healthy boundaries or a Personal Protection Order against someone abusive.

“Just because they are elderly doesn’t mean they’ve lost their rights,” she said. “We provide them with services and connect them to the community. Our service is to make sure seniors are safe in their homes.”

For more information, call or e-mail Victim Rights Coordinator Sheryl Eckert at (810) 985-2301 or email seckert@stclaircounty.org.


SOURCE:        The VoiceNews
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