Opinion: Help the elderly avoid scams

From the St. Joseph News-Press, Dec. 27, 2012:

Stunning. Sickening. Frightening. A 100-year-old woman who lives in our community needed to have some window screens repaired. It is now alleged two men duped her out of her life savings, more than $350,000.

The recent News-Press account of this case stops short of rendering judgment. However, it does provide details from a criminal complaint that speak to a confused senior citizen who simply needed work done at her home.

Two details stand out. Altogether, the homeowner wrote at least 50 checks to two men who allegedly told the woman that beyond repairing torn screens, she needed to have the foundation of the residence fixed. And one of the suspects has five prior felony convictions.

Are we stunned to hear this allegation that something so reprehensible could occur in our community?

How could this elderly woman be subjected to months of alleged fraudulent behavior without anyone detecting something was wrong?

Could this just as easily happen to someone we care about? To us, if we're not careful?

There are plenty of good tips for avoiding getting scammed: Always get proposals in writing. Get multiple bids. Require names of references, and check them. Take your time deciding, and ask someone you trust to help. Avoid paying for work until it is done.

All of this is helpful, it seems, but we think now of those who might have made a difference for our 100-year-old victim. Friends, family, social agency workers — we presume there are many who are wishing today they had seen something and stepped in earlier.

This is assistance we all hope will be there for us in our time of need. But hoping alone cannot make it so. This episode reminds of how important it is to share our lives with others we trust and who have our best interests at heart.

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