For weeks now, a 60-year-old woman has felt the pressure of an increasingly aggressive “IRS officer” calling to demand owed money.
These supposed back taxes are not the first time Valerie Sicher has been targeted by con artists looking for her financial information.
“I’ve never been scammed because I’ve been aware of it,” said Sicher, a retired member of a Miami credit union board of directors.
The calls have been reported to the IRS, but representatives told Sicher that the calls are untraceable from her work phone.
On Oct. 1, Florida house bill 409 passed, which allowed prosecutors more leeway in convicting criminals who exploit the elderly, but only one in seven exploitation cases are making it to prosecution, said Shannon Miller, ESQ., of the Miller Elder Law Firm.
Out of 45 thousand cases, exploitation victims make up for 15.86 percent of the total investigations, according to the 2013-2014 data collected by the Florida Department of Elder Affairs.
“These are often deep family matters; they can involve all kinds of risks and liabilities,” said Nancy Salisbury, a retired public health official and minister. “Victims fear embarrassment and emotional distress along with the risks of personal safety.”
An extra $5 million to add to a retirement plan may have sounded irresistible to some, but “risk-free” money never seems to work out that way.
Stan and Nancy Salisbury, elderly retirees of Gainesville, received a first-class letter last August that offered the split of a hefty inheritance of their unknown relative James Salisbury.
“All the numbers, companies and addresses check out,” Stan said. “But there’s definitely no Jameses on my side of the family.”
Miller has worked on a case where gifts preceded extortion. The client accepted a valid lotto prize in Haiti for $1,300; however, that was just the bait. Part two of the payment, a $16,000 sum that never came, was meant to arrive two months later.
In the meantime, the con artists acquired his payment information and were able to siphon off $22,500 from the client’s account through micro-transactions and a gift tax.
“If it sounds to good to be true, it probably is,” she said.
House bill 409 specifically refers to those over 65 who are considered vulnerable adults. A jury may presume exploitation if a joint account is being used to deprive an elder, or if there is negligence or resistance to spend money that would benefit the elder. Another red flag is if a non-relative who has known the victim for less than two years is receiving transfers.
“There’s some cases that are clear cut; if someone comes and says they want to leave everything to their pool boy, then we got a problem,” said Ronald A. Jones, P.A., civil attorney at law.
Events such as Law at the Library: Elder Law seminar, held on Nov. 10 at the Headquarters Library of the Alachua County Library District, are helping to spread awareness of the changing interpretation of elder exploitation as summarized by american actor Mickey Rooney before his death in April 2014.
“People you know, just because someone goes to your church, your golfing circle or are in the same organization, doesn’t necessarily make them trustworthy,” Jones said. “That’s why they’re called con artists.”