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Seminar aims to help seniors guard against fraud

By Joe Beck

Crooks can use pens as well as guns to steal, and no group is more vulnerable to unscrupulous plots to separate people from their money than the elderly.

A Front Royal police detective, adult protective social services worker and certified fraud examiner are hoping a seminar they are planning in Front Royal will help prevent and detect fraudulent business practices that target seniors.

The list of topics included in the seminar, scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday in room 602 of the Warren County Government Building at 220 Commerce Ave., includes Internet and telemarketing scams, identity theft, bogus investments, lotteries and sweepstakes, deceptive home improvement and medical services and power of attorney embezzlement.

One of the speakers, Front Royal Detective Crystal Cline, recounted a recent case in which the daughter of an elderly victim found six checks her mother had written. The daughter was suspicious about the recipients, so she called police, who discovered the checks were cashed on behalf of someone else as part of a scheme to defraud the victim on home repairs, Cline said. A structural engineer hired to inspect the home concluded the victim paid $7,300 for work that was never done, Cline said, adding that two brothers were later charged with five felony counts of obtaining money under false pretenses.

While a con artist can deceive people of any age, seniors are especially vulnerable, Cline said.

"Seniors are scammed because they're usually polite and trusting," Cline said. "They were born in the 1930s, 40s and 50s, and it's hard for them to say 'no', and hang up the phone," Cline said.

The idea for the seminar came from Tim Frees, a retired general manager at Jack Evans Chevrolet and currently an adjunct instructor in accounting at Lord Fairfax Community College.

"I'm a senior," Frees said. "I'm 69 and will be turning 70. I'm kind of interested in these things. In the working world, I had to deal with embezzlement and fraud. In the business world, you run into it. Unfortunately, in retirement, you run into it with people you know."

Frees said he is a member of the Washington, D.C., chapter of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners. The organization conducted a seminar in November that inspired him to speak to Janice Hart, a crime prevention specialist with the Front Royal police, about holding a similar event that would focus on local fraud.

Thursday's program also will include a presentation by John Steele, who works in adult protection with the Warren County Department of Social Services.

Cline said there are cases in which even family members and caregivers try to take advantage of an elderly relative or client.

Caregivers and those with power of attorney should pay close attention to bills for cell phones, cable TV and other goods and services that show payment for items that "wouldn't be indicative of benefits for the people they're caring for."

Cline said many elderly fraud victims refuse to report the crimes because they're ashamed of being duped or afraid of police. In some cases, they don't even realize they've been conned.

Cline said those who do report crimes often make poor witnesses when police and prosecutors are trying to assemble a case against a suspect.

"They get their facts messed up," Cline said of the victims. "They don't remember details. The suspects are counting on the elderly victims not being able to supply those details, so more than likely, they're going to get away it."

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com


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