Elder Abuse Task Force educates on scams targeting seniors

Joe Gavalis (far left in red sweater) addresses an expert panel at Cobb County’s Senior Center. panel, L-R: Meagan Shepherd, APS; Kim Isaza and Jason Marbutt, Cobb County District Attorney’s Office; Jeff Taylor, Office of the State Long Term Care Ombudsman; Officer Duncan, Acworth PD; and Investigator Hill, Cobb County Sheriff’s Office. (photo courtesy of TGA Communications LLC)

Nancy Daniell was among several visitors to the North Cobb Senior Center attending an Elder Abuse discussion on January 8. The occasion brought together an expert panel who shared stories about senior scammers — the con artists who use all types of stories to separate older adults from their savings.

Nancy Daniell taking notes for her senior community.
(photo courtesy of TGA Communications, LLC)

Daniell represented an informal resident’s association of an ‘over 55’ adult community. She described concerns voiced by neighbors from her complex of over 100 residents.

“Our association mainly deals with planning social events, but has recently become more aware of serious issues [like scams] facing the group,” she said to the panel.

The informal presentation, including several questions from the audience, dealt with some of the most prevalent schemes affecting Cobb’s communities.

Meagan Shepherd holds up a sign for the “Sweepstakes” scam. (photo courtesy of TGA Communications)

Leading the seminar was Joe Gavalis, a retired federal law enforcement official and active volunteer with the North Georgia Elder Abuse Task Force. And Cobb County Senior Assistant District Attorney, Jason Marbutt, spoke about scams prosecuted by his office. He represents one of Georgia’s leading jurisdictions in successfully prosecuting crimes involving elderly victims.

Gavalis, with the assistance of Meagan Shepherd of Georgia’s Adult Protective Services (APS), invited audience members to select a random rip-off from a deck of signs. Each sign identified a popular scam.

One problem, vividly described by Gavalis and others, is the grandparent scam. The victim receives a call, usually in the middle of the night. The caller identifies themself as a law officer who is calling on behalf of the victim’s grandchild who (in theory) is in jail. The caller says the grandchild needs “bail money.”

Other scams are a little less jolting and involve an imposter utility company representative. In this set of circumstances, the caller indicates that the power or water is about to be cut off for ‘non-payment.’ The caller requests immediate payment to keep services operating.

Like many savvy scammers, the requested payment takes the form of gift cards or debit card access in the amount of several hundred dollars. The caller initially arranges to meet the victim, but usually calls later asking for code numbers on the back of the cards instead.

Unknowing victims think this will save them a trip, but in the long run it costs them money. Once the card code information is passed to the imposter, the money is gone, electronically transferred to the scammer’s account.

Another scam suggests the victim has inadvertently missed jury duty. “There’s a warrant for your arrest,” says the caller. However, a payment will “cover your fine,” is what the victim hears – along with, “Your warrant will be canceled once payment is received.”

Investigator Hill of the Cobb County Sheriff’s Department explained to the audience, “If law enforcement is planning to serve a warrant for your arrest, they would not call you first.” And more importantly, “… They would definitely not request money to quash the warrant.”

Gavalis says he’s provided presentations to over 3,000 seniors and more than 600 law enforcement and regulatory officials via this nonprofit organization, since the task force was formed in 2013.

“We work very closely with the law enforcement community, ombudsmen and the regulatory community,” said Gavalis when discussing the task force. Scammers have turned to telephone calls as their weapon of choice.

Education is the mission of the task force. Nancy Daniell says she’s planning to carry all lessons learned to her community.