Ralph Oneal

Ralph Oneal 

Scams calls and emails are mere annoyances to most, but to older people, they can be a threat, causing confusion, anxiety, and, in some cases, leading to financial ruin.

A caller may say he's a bailiff representing a relative jailed in a foreign country, and he can assist by brokering money through a wire service.

Or a voice mail offers congratulations on winning a lottery in Jamaica or Canada and only a processing fee needs to be made. Or a computer screen flashes with the warning of impending failure unless the number on the screen is called immediately, leading to payments and the compromise of personal data.

Particularly rampant is the roto caller scam, where someone claims to be a credit card representative in order to extract personal information from the victim. 

Those scenarios represent just a few of the growing number of schemes that target the elderly, costing an estimated $2.1 billion nationally, said elder abuse prevention advocate Ralph Oneal, who is based in St. Tammany Parish.

The number is actually much higher, Oneal said, because it's estimated only one in every 24 cases is reported.

“There is no central collection point for those cases," he said, "and it’s sad.”

Oneal is the organizer of the upcoming Gulf Coast Elder Abuse Conference, which offers education and training to professionals who work with seniors in nursing, social work, law enforcement and banking. The event will be held June 24-26 at the Harbor Center in Slidell.

Oneal said 65% of all elder abuse is financial exploitation, with family members the most frequent offenders.

Successful scams are hard to track, he said, because they don’t fall into the same category as burglary or assault, and often victims are too embarrassed to report them. The aim of the conference is to help those who work with seniors quickly spot fraud and protect potential victims.

The trickiest scams to track are those that come across a computer screen or via a phone call, said technology expert Steve Bordelon.

“I have seen concrete examples of these scams, and unfortunately, by the time I get involved, a computer already has been infected with a virus or the victim has paid money to a scammer,” he said.

“There is no telling how much money gets stolen from elderly victims," added Bordelon, who has been in the technology field for 40 years.

Scammers are successful not because seniors are dumb or incapable, Oneal said, "but because they are more trusting in many cases. And also because if these scammers lived in Hollywood, they would win Oscars for their performances.”

Registration is open for the Elder Abuse Conference, which offers 48 hours of instruction and will feature presentations from the American Banking Association, the FBI, the U.S. Department of Justice, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and other law enforcement agencies. 

Preregistration is required by June 24 at elderabuseconference.org/senior-event or by calling (985) 377-4732.