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As senior population grows, so do frauds against them

Officials advise: when in doubt, speak out

Americans are getting older, and as they age, more and more are becoming targets of fraud.

This area is no exception. Nick Henley, a certified fraud specialist who volunteers at the Pleasanton Senior Center, calls the Tri-Valley "a target-rich community."

The Danville Senior Center holds classes "a couple of times a year," said program coordinator Diana Tucker.

"We do periodically have lectures that are sponsored by the Danville PD," Tucker said. "They're usually pretty well attended."

She said the senior center focuses mainly on education.

"By the time somebody comes in for help, they've already been scammed," Tucker said. She said victims are referred to Danville Police Officer Anthony Perry, who specializes in frauds.

Henley spent much of his career as an investigator with the IRS, and he's watched as the numbers of seniors who have been defrauded has grown.

"A lot of them are apprehensive about coming forward and talking about it. There's a little sense of guilt, because a lot of elder abuse comes from within, from family members," Henley said. "Some of the stuff that's going on that's involving their finances, you have a caretaker of family member that takes over as a signator on their account."

He said the most important thing for seniors to do if they suspect they're being victimized is to speak up.

"Don't be embarrassed. That's the big thing. Time and time again, I've talked to these folks and they say, 'I can't believe I'm doing this. My son-in-law or my daughter or my son is taking my money.'"

Frauds by family members are by far the most common way seniors are victimized. The National Center on Elder Abuse, part of the federal department of Health and Human Services, reports that family members account for 90 percent of financial fraud against the elderly.

That was the case with an Auburn man and his girlfriend, who were prosecuted for draining the bank account of the man's mother, an 86-year-old resident of Eden Villa Assisted Living on Mohr Avenue in Pleasanton.

Mark Champlin, 61, was sentenced to 60 months in prison for bilking his mother out of her life savings, nearly a half-million dollars.

Friends who gain the trust of an elderly person are also a concern to Henley, who said there are systems in place that watch out for suspicious actions against the elderly.

"Fortunately the local banks are really good about reporting this information to federal law enforcement," he said. "Banks have a suspicious activity report – it goes to the FBI and the IRS. These forms, they document what occurs and what is said during a transaction. They're a really good source of leads on potential victim."

There are also county-based offices of Adult Protective Services that investigate reports of abuse of elders and dependent adults who live in private homes.

An APS investigation led to the arrest and the ongoing prosecution of a former captain in the Pinole Police Department and his wife. Matthew Messier and Elizabeth Regalado were charged with three counts of attempted grand theft, four counts of elder abuse, one count of forgery, one count of criminal conspiracy, one count of registering a fraudulent document and a count of practicing law without a license.

The victim was 82 when the pair, her neighbors, were arrested. Messier drafted documents that included a quitclaim deed to the woman's home, power of attorney naming himself as trustee and sole beneficiary when she dies, according to court documents. The woman's home is worth between $500,000 and $700,000; she also has safe deposit boxes containing savings bonds, cash and gold worth more than $50,000.

An APS examination showed the victim is incapable of making financial decisions for herself.

Henley said a senior should speak up if she or he is being bilked by a family member or friend.

"I'd recommend that they go to a third party, go to a non-family member that they can trust, (or) go to the senior center," he said.

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