Knowledge is the Best Protection Against Elder Fraud

“It just makes you frustrated and furious.” That’s all Jason Hicks, District Attorney for Caddo, Grady, Jefferson, and Stephens counties, could say. Hicks is a strong supporter of Marsy’s Law and we were talking about a case of elderly fraud his office is investigated in western Oklahoma. An elderly woman had more than $100,000 stolen from her retirement accounts by foreign scam artists posing as investment advisors. In his opinion, Marsy’s Law could be very helpful in cases like this. Giving seniors a clear guide to their rights, offering support so they attend court proceedings, and involving them in the process when their perpetrator is punished would be instrumental in helping them recover their dignity and self-respect.

Crimes like this against the elderly are becoming more common and harder to prosecute. One in eight of the cases reported to the National Center on Elder Abuse relate to finances, and the average fraud takes $30,000 out of a senior’s pocket. It’s a startling statistic I learned at the 2017 Oklahoma Senior Fraud Conference put on by the Oklahoma Insurance Department. I went to the event to meet experts who investigate crimes against the elderly and talk with some of the attendees about Marsy’s Law for Oklahoma.

The place was packed and the folks who sat at my table were fascinating. Everyone was over age 70 and all were trying to arm themselves against the con artists and thieves trying to take their life savings. Let’s just say none of them were going down without a fight. Barbara and Elaine sat to my right. They both knew elderly crime victims who’d had money stolen by someone they trusted they wanted to know how to spot trouble and what to do to protect themselves. By the end of the event, we all discovered a woman sitting behind us had thousands of dollars stolen during a phone scam by someone posing as a relative in trouble. 

The experts in the room had the answers they were looking for. Phil Stambeck of the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office talked about common senior scams; Jennifer Shaw of the Oklahoma Securities Commission focused on investment fraud; Elaine Dodd of the Oklahoma Bankers Association presented a lot of good information about what banks can do to stop financial scams; and Rick Wagnon, director of the Oklahoma Insurance Department Anti-Fraud Division told the amazing story about Gary Edward Hibbing a former Oklahoma insurance agent sentenced to 27 months in prison for fraud after defrauding his victims.

All these experts had something in common with Marsy’s Law. We all want to empower crime victims to stand up for their rights and work together to make the criminal justice system stronger. Together, I think we can do it.