Grieving seniors can fall victim to scammers, advocates warn

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A recent case involving a woman who allegedly stole thousands of dollars from seniors highlights a disturbing and growing trend of crimes against kupuna.

Some of the crimes that are surfacing in Hawaii have prosecutors and advocates appalled.

The term predator has different meanings to different people.

Scott Spallina and his Elder Abuse Unit are often called whenever someone over the age of 60 is a victim of crime.

“When we hear the term predator, we think like sharks in the ocean not realizing there’s people here that are preying on our seniors,” he said.

One of his most recent calls shocked him.

“Believe it or not, they’ll look for prey at a graveyard in a sense that they’ll look for somebody that recently lost a loved one and is overwhelmed by grief and will approach that individual and will say hey, I lost someone as well,” he explained.

Spallina says con artists use that instant intimacy to create a bond and build trust they can later take advantage of.

“They are vulnerable,” he said. “Here you are paying your last respects to a loved one, someone you’ve shared your life with, your wife, your son, whomever, and then a stranger comes up to you and says, ‘Oh, excuse me, I’m also grieving as well. Would you like to grieve together?'”

In one approach, scammers read obituaries and call or attend the funeral service of a complete stranger to take advantage of grieving families.

Spallina says the recent events highlight what’s been going on in Hawaii for years, but we don’t hear about because it’s not being reported enough.

“Talk to your mom. Talk to your dad and say, ‘Hey Dad, what went on today? What went on this week?’ Because usually it’s going to be a change in a routine that will be the first sign that something is up,” he said.

Remember, these predators see this as their job.

“The people that commit these crimes are like magicians. They are professional con artists. They do this for living,” Spallina said. “They come here for a limited amount of time. They hit hard the seniors and then they leave. That is their job and unfortunately they’re very, very good at it.”

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