by Robin Kemp

Clayton County has an active and growing senior population. Today, June 15, is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, and law enforcement officials are weighing in with new initiatives to protect vulnerable seniors from those who would prey upon them.

Federal efforts reap results

According to the Department of Justice, elder abuse is “an intentional or negligent act that causes harm or a serious risk of harm to an older adult” and is “a serious crime that affects at least 10 percent of older Americans every year.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Georgia, along with the U.S. Postal Service, the Prosecuting Attorneys Council of Georgia, and the American Bankers Association will hold a virtual town hall at 3 p.m. today on how fraudsters prey on seniors and ways you can protect yourself or your loved ones from financial criminals.

“One of the Department of Justice’s top priorities is investigating and prosecuting elder abuse, as well as helping to educate the public on these issues.” said Acting U.S. Attorney Kurt R. Erskine. “Financial exploitation is the most common form of elder abuse and is estimated to cost older adults up to $36 billion annually.”

Federal efforts to combat elder abuse include:

  • the Department of Justice’s Elder Justice Initiative, aimed at “preventing and prosecuting elder abuse” through community outreach via senior centers, radio and TV, and collaboration with state and local law enforcement.
  • the Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force, of which the Northern District of Georgia is a member, and which investigates and prosecutes overseas scammers who prey on seniors.

Some of the criminal elder abuse cases the Northern District of Georgia has closed this year include:

  • United States v. Mehulkumar Manubhai Patel and Chaitali Dave: the defendants, who laundered money from scam calls from India, were sentenced on April 29 for laundering over $500,000 . The callers pretended to be law enforcement officials seeking Social Security information and threatened to arrest the victims if they did not mail cash to Patel, Dave, or other members of the ring who were using aliases.
  • United States v. Louis Beria: the defendant was sentenced to prison March 15 for defrauding a company and its elderly owner, a German investor who had hired Beria to manage one of his Atlanta apartment complexes. Beria, who also owned a complex in Atlanta, hired a construction company to fix up the apartments he owned using the victim’s money, then lied about it. Beria stole $1,621,979 from the victim.
  • United States v. Karla Suzanne Spiker: the defendant was sentenced February 3 for helping to launder money for an Indian phone scamming group. The scammers placed robocalls, telling victims they had an urgent message. When the victims called back, the scammers would threaten or talk the victims into sending money. They would either claim the victims’ Social Security numbers had been used in a crime, then threaten to arrest them. or offer a reduced mortgage in exchange for an up-front fee. The scammers then told the victims to send or wire money to various accomplices in the United States, like Spiker.
  • United States v. Guarav Gupta and E Sampark: in what the Northern District calls “a first-of-its-kind indictment,” the defendants were charged November 17, 2020 for allegedly providing a Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) Internet-based phone company, E Sampark, to send “tens of millions of scam calls from criminal India-based call centers to victims in the United States.” Gupta made money by providing the infrastructure for the scam. The callers posed as goverment agents who claimed the victims would be arrested over alleged debts unless they paid with gift cards or by wiring money. They also claimed to be bankers offering loans to get the victims’ bank account information.
  • In another first, the Northern District got a judge to issue a federal injunction to shut down “foreign scammers’ access to a server farm in Florida” under 18 U.S.C. § 1345. By cutting off the scammers’ VoIP technology, the Northern District was able to stop the scammers from calling victims in the United States.
  • the Northern District “continues to investigate nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities as part of the Department of Justice Nursing Home Initiative for potential violations of the False Claims Act.”

You can learn more about federal law enforcement efforts aimed at protecting seniors through “enforcement actions, training and resources, research, and victim service” at www.justice.gov/elderjustice.

State and local law enforcement

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation, along with the Georgia Department of Human Services (DHS) Division of Aging Services (DAS) recognize World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, “send our sincere appreciation to all of those who care for an elder person or an adult with disabilities and to those who protect victims, prevent future abuse, and prosecute offenders,” said GBI spokesperson Nelly Miles.

GBI Director Vic Reynolds stated, “As we observe World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, we are reminded how important it is to protect one of our most vulnerable populations. Every day, the GBI is committed to investigating not only physical abuse, but also financial abuse and exploitation of elderly and at-risk adults.”

DHS Commissioner Robyn A. Crittenden added, “The work of our Forensic Special Initiatives Unit is so crucial to educating first responders and other social service professionals on how to identify abuse, neglect and exploitation cases so we can effectively seek justice for the victims of these crimes and hold perpetrators responsible for their actions. This work requires involvement with so many other agencies and entities, and the CADE Task Force will help us bring all of those players to the same table so we can continue to provide support to identify and prevent crimes against older and disabled adults in our community.”

Some of the actions that law enforcement is taking to protect Georgia seniors include:

  • the GBI created the Crimes Against Disabled Adults and Elderly (CADE) Task Force, in cooperation with the Division of Aging Services (DAS) and the Forensic Special Initiatives Unit (FSIU).
  • FSIU trains first responders, judicial officials, financial institution employees, protective and victim services agencies, halthcare providers, coroners and medical examiners to look out for signs of elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation.
  • The combined efforts of the GBI and FSIU have caught more offenders who exploit seniors and have helped state and local agencies address the problem.

“The CADE task force’s support involves developing and conducting training, providing technical and case assistance, and advancing policy through the identification of gaps in services,” Miles said. “This support enhances the ability of agencies across the state to partner with the public who are the eyes and ears in the community. We need to empower victims to report what has happened to them and not be afraid or embarrassed.”

What you can do

If you suspect any kind of elder abuse, neglect, or exploitation, here are some steps the GBI says you should take:

  • In any case, if the person is in immediate danger, call 911 first.
  • If the person lives in a private residence, call both your local police department AND Adult Protective Services at (866) 552-4464, then press option 3.
  • If the person lives in a long-term care facility, call both your local police AND the Healthcare Facility Regulation Division of the Department of Community Health at (800) 878-6442. You also can call the GBI Watchdesk at (800) 597-8477.
  • Learn about laws that protect seniors from elder abuse and financial exploitation at https://www.justice.gov/elderjustice/prosecutors/statutes
  • See the Elder Abuse Guide for Law Enforcement at https://eagle.usc.edu/, where you can enter your zip code for a list of resources near you.
  • Visit Clayton County Senior Services online at http://www.claytonseniors.com/ for a wealth of county resources and support, and to connect with other seniors near you.