WEST WYOMING — Luzerne County District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis told about 200 senior citizens on Wednesday the number of crimes against them that are reported to her office represent only a fraction of what is going on in the community.
Salavantis, speaking at the Elder Justice Seminar at the West Wyoming Hose Co., urged seniors to report even the suspicion of elder abuse and financial exploitation and her office will investigate.
“I tell everyone to follow your gut,” she said. “If you see bruises on someone or if you suspect somebody is taking advantage of an elderly person, report it. Too many times, people lose all of their money or they end up hospitalized or even dead.”
Salavantis said that after the seminar more than 20 people came to her and asked to meet to discuss situations they are aware of regarding elder abuse.
According to U.S. Census Bureau data, people age 65 and older make up 18 percent of Luzerne County’s population of 320,000. That calculates to about 57,600 senior citizens.
The national average is about 12 percent and statewide seniors represent 15.4 percent of the population.
“We hear so many heart-wrenching stories,” Salavantis said. “People lose their life’s savings, their family heirlooms and, even worse, their health.”
To make her point, Salavantis, cited the case of a 97-year-old woman who police say was bilked out of $118,000 while she was in a nursing home recuperating from a fall. Police say her former neighbor who cut her grass allegedly stole the money from her bank account by writing checks to himself.
Salavantis said each case is different, but serious offenses could carry years of jail time plus fines and restitution of money taken.
“However, many time the items taken that are pawned or sold are family heirlooms with lots of sentimental value,” Salavantis said. “Those things can’t be replaced.”
County Detective Lt. Larry Fabian said the sooner a case is reported to authorities, the better.
“If you suspect something is wrong, you have to call,” he said. “Don’t delay. Call before it’s too late.”
Fabian said financial exploitation of seniors usually occurs to support a gambling habit or to purchase drugs. He said he has seen cases where victims have had as much as $100,000 gambled away by a family member, friend or caregiver.
Salavantis said telephone scams are on the rise as well. She advised the seniors to never divulge personal information like their Social Security number, date of birth or credit card numbers. She said when an offer seems too good to be true, be wary.
“Learn the pitch, don’t make the con man rich,” she said.
State Reps. Phyllis Mundy, D-Kingston, and Karen Boback, R-Harveys Lake, along with the district attorney hosted the seminar. The event was co-sponsored by the Area Agency on Aging and offered information and advice on how seniors can prevent becoming a victim of crime, as well as providing information about long-term care planning, power-of attorney, estate planning and guardianship.
Mundy said she hopes Wednesday’s event is the first of an ongoing series of discussions to educate and provide tools for the elderly population as they navigate the later phases of their lives.
“Complex issues such as power of attorney or long-term care planning can be overwhelming,” Mundy said. “Education is the key to helping our elderly residents safeguard what they have worked so hard for their whole lives.”
Boback said seniors need to know that it is never too late to plan for their future.