Watch out for low-life elder abuse weasels

ROB STOCK
Last updated 16:53 12/04/2013
Elderly, conman, rip off, money, fraud
ROCCO FAZZARI/Fairfax Australia
BE VIGILANT: It's up to families, friends and neighbours of the elderly to help defend them against the low-life weasels who try to rip them off, Rob Stock says.

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OPINION: There are enemies amongst us, and it is up to families, friends and neighbours to be vigilant to defeat their evil intentions.

The enemies are the low-life weasels ripping off elderly people.

Though in recent weeks I have kept this column light-hearted, this week I am making an exception.

You see, I've been delving into the chilling subject of financial elder abuse, both by families and by unscrupulous crooks, some posing as tradesmen.

I've learnt a thing or two.

The first is that Age Concern is largely correct that ripping off the elderly is a fairly easy thing to get away with.

All you do is borrow money from them with some cock and bull story, and never pay it back, or ludicrously overcharge for a service like house painting.

Either that, or you take their money after securing an enduring power of attorney.

The police will more likely than not call it a civil matter, especially if it is within a family. Even if they think a crime has been committed, old people often make poor witnesses easily shredded by slick defence lawyers, so the chances of charges being laid are small.

Even if a person, through the tireless efforts of family, gets some justice, it is likely to come late, be the equivalent of a slap with a limp lettuce leaf, and not result in the money coming back.

Take the recent example of Wellington real estate agent Pat William Walker, who ripped off a 92-year-old elderly woman of her life savings.

He did it in 2007.

He's been sentenced to home detention, and ordered to pay reparation.

Justice. Only he's bankrupt, and she died two years ago.

I'm not a Sensible Sentencing Trust advocate, but this kind of thing makes me want to set up an AP to make regular donations.

So what can we do?

First, prevention is key. Once money has gone, the chances of getting it back are slim.

Families must be vigilant. If you have a rapacious family member, keep tabs on their relationship with mum. Yes, single women more often fall victim. Ditto non-family members getting close.

Neighbours and friends can play a part too.

Don't turn a blind eye. Act, if you think a weasel is at work.

Age Concern is a staunch advocate for the elderly, and can be enormous help in ending an abusive situation, with or without the police being involved.

Families must work hard to make this happen.

Banks have pledged to train staff to be vigilant for signs of elder abuse. If they fail, they can be challenged to help undo the damage, including by making payments. The same goes for other businesses.

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Walker worked for the Professionals. They stumped up $70,000 to his victim.

Getting the police to act can be harder. Expect to have to gather evidence yourself.

Talk with mum or dad about security. Little things like not keeping PIN numbers with cards.

Just look at the harm done by career criminal Brian Edward Tehuia, sentenced earlier this month to a more satisfying four years in jail, who burgled the elderly knowing so many keep PINs with their cards.

GOLDEN RULES

■ Be available to talk, and advise, but do not dominate.

■ Be vigilant. Once money is gone, it is gone.

■ Remember, mum's money is not ''your inheritance''.

Rob Stock is a journalist with Fairfax Business Bureau and the money editor of Sunday Star-Times.

- BusinessDay

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