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In an effort to prevent seniors from falling victim to scams and fraudulent schemes, the Carroll County State's Attorney's Office has launched an education program that is targeted at elder financial abuse.

"We're going to try to get across to seniors No. 1 the realization that everyone's at risk," Carroll County Chief Deputy State's Attorney Kathleen C. Murphy said. "There are misconceptions that seniors who are shut-ins are the primary target or seniors who may be cognitively compromised are the targets, and that is not really, in my experience, the case."

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The office's Economic Crimes Unit has scheduled seminars at county senior centers to educate the community about financial scams targeting seniors. Five sessions have been scheduled in October and November, where information will be presented about common scams and red flags of financial elder abuse, Murphy said.

Murphy said seniors aren't necessarily targets of fraudulent schemes and scams specifically because of vulnerability.

"They're targeted because of their nest eggs; because of their income and assets," Murphy said. "So we definitely want to increase awareness that people who may not consider themselves as likely victims very well could be."

There are two distinct groups of perpetrators carrying out financial crimes against senior citizens: known predators, including family members and caregivers; and strangers who typically carry out financial scams, Murphy said.

Although financial scams are often carried out by strangers, the perpetrators of exploitation cases are often somebody known to the victim, such as family members or caregivers, Murphy said.

"The majority of financial exploitation cases are perpetrated by somebody known to the victim," Murphy said.

Senior Assistant State's Attorney Melissa Hockensmith, who serves as economic crimes prosecutor, said she gets three to five calls a week about seniors falling victim to financial exploitation.

Caregiver crimes present a common problem in Carroll County, Hockensmith said.

For example, a couple of years ago, Hockensmith said, she prosecuted a case in Taneytown, where an older man fell victim to his granddaughter who moved in with him.

"She was going to college and she needed a place to stay, so it was just mutually convenient," Hockensmith said. "She stole tens of thousands of dollars from him."

Hockensmith said she also recently handled a case in which a caregiver stole a checkbook from her employer and began issuing checks to herself and other people.

"She might write 'Happy Birthday' in the memo line," Hockensmith said. "You just have to watch your checkbook."

Seniors often fall victim to phone scams, in which a person might, for example, request money over the phone, posing as a relative or friend, Hockensmith said.

"Any request to wire money is a huge red flag," Murphy said.

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Hockensmith said people can help their older neighbors by keeping a watchful eye on them. "Help them go over their bank statement every month," she said.

Scammers will also often call seniors, requesting personal information over the phone.

"Do not give out your personal information," Murphy said. "There should be nobody calling you for information that they already have."

Hockensmith and Murphy agreed that financial scams targeting older people have been continuous over the past few years.

"It's just ever-present in the work we do," Murphy said. "It's always a significant part of our caseload."

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If you go:

Presentations will be held on the following dates and times:

11:45 a.m. Oct. 8, Taneytown Senior Center

11 a.m. Oct. 20, South Carroll Senior Center

Noon Nov. 5, Mount Airy Senior Center

11 a.m. Nov. 17, Westminster Senior Center

Noon Nov. 23, North Carroll Senior Center

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