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Warning signs and tips to avoid elder abuse

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LAKELAND, Fla. (WFLA) – Saturday is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day and one local woman wants you to know what happened to her.

She requested 8 On Your Side not use her name.

Over the past few years, she estimates she sent a scammer half a million dollars in gift cards.

This was the second time she was scammed. The caller offered to get her money back from the first scam.

So she loaded hundreds of dollars on gift cards and then provided the scammers with the number on the card. They used the money. She never saw it again.

“I think it’s probably $400,000 – $500,000,” she said. “I’m stupid. I’m an old lady, I should know better.”

She realized it was a scam this spring and connected with the Seniors Vs. Crime Project.

Dick Fearnow, with the Seniors Vs. Crime Project, spoke at a Lakeland event Friday to spread awareness about elder abuse and exploitation in Polk County.

There were nearly 3,000 reports to the elder abuse hotline in one year in Polk County.

The Florida hotline is 1-800-96ABUSE.

Experts say for every one case reported, 23 are not.

“Never do business with someone who comes knocking on your door uninvited,” said Fearnow.

A common case involves unlicensed contractors who ask you to pay upfront at a hefty charge.

“The ones who did shabby work or who did not even come to do the work after being paid,” said Fearnow.

If somebody calls, pretending to be from the IRS for example, do not give them your social security number over the phone.

If you think your identity may have been stolen, put a freeze on your credit.

“Then that will prevent anyone from being able to contact the credit bureau and getting any credit information on that person,” said Fearnow.

Scammers can also “spoof” a phone number, meaning it appears on your phone as if it is coming from a legitimate source, including your local police department.

If it seems suspicious at all, hang up. Find the real phone number and call it back.

One in ten older Americans falls victim to elder abuse and exploitation.

Check on your neighbors and take note of changes, including behavioral and financial.

‘They’re garbage to prey on elderly, vulnerable people. There are people who are evil, I don’t care what anyone says,” said Marcia Doscher, who lives in Lakeland and attended Friday’s event.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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