SALEM, Ore. (KOIN) - SALEM, Ore. (KOIN) -- Facing Parkinson's disease, 85-year-old Phyllis Fread videotaped a memento for her family. "I think that I have to live forever because I might be missing something," she said on the DVD.
As a retired dean of students and an educator of 44 years, Fread was excited at a phone solicitor’s offer to have her life documented in a book and video.
But about 18 months ago, her family discovered she paid $10,000 for the five minute DVD -- just a part of the $90,000 in credit card charges state investigators said she was taken for over a few months.
"When what I would refer to as 'the bad guys' called, it was on the premise of leaving a legacy behind," her son, John Fread, told KOIN 6 News. "In some case the charges were recurring and some were, 'I'm sorry, Mrs. Fread, but your credit card didn't go through. We're not sure why, but maybe if you just gave us a different card.'"
According to the Department of Human Services, financial exploitation is now the number one form of adult abuse in Oregon.
The abusers are rarely strangers.
Statistics show 55% are family members, 19% are friends or acquaintances, 18% are non-relative caregivers.
The Department of Human Services said elder financial abuse was most prevalent last year in Multnomah, Jackson, Josephine, Coos and Curry counties.
The numbers are rising. The Office of Adult Abuse Prevention and Investigations (OAAPI) said there were 612 substantiated cases of financial abuse in 2009. In 2010 there were 685, 757 in 2011 and in 2012, there were 828.
Christian Hale is a new investigator with OAAPI. He specializes in complex financial cases and has law, accounting and compliance credentials.
He's also worked as a senior internal auditor for large Las Vegas casinos.
Hale watched for criminal activities in casinos "on behalf of customers and with employees," he told KOIN 6 News.
His job now is to go after people stealing from Oregon seniors.
"I can see what happened and when and help bring that information to law enforcement and district attorneys, if necessary," he said, "to help bring wrongdoers to justice."
He's also providing specialized training to investigators across Oregon.
The state is also banking on help from bankers like Betsy Steinberg, who has worked with some of her Pioneer Trust Bank customers in Salem for 30 years.
"The fact that someone is taking their livelihood or what they have to live off of away from them is heartbreaking," she said.
Bankers are in a unique position to spot red flags such as "unusual cash withdrawals, unusual transactions," she said.
The Oregon Bankers Association and DHS recently launched a new version of a toolkit teaching bankers how to detect and report possible financial abuse, “Preventing Elder Financial Exploitation: How banks can help.”
"There's a hesitancy because you don't want to have to tell a third party (about) customers' confidential information," said Steinberg, who is an Assistant branch Vice President at Pioneer Trust Bank. "But in reality in Oregon there are safe harbors for banks to do the reporting."
But banks are not required by Oregon law to report suspected abuse.
The OAAPI's Hale said mandatory reporting could make a difference. "But in the meantime I think they're doing an excellent job reporting to us and when they do, we have the added advantage through legislation and administrative rules, we have more access to financial records to help protect the victim."
Recently DHS received $6 million from the legislature to add 44 investigators statewide in adult protective services. When hiring is complete, DHS officials said there will be a total of 154 investigators in 36 field offices across Oregon. It’s expected to help them respond to the increasing volume and complexity of these cases more quickly.
State investigators have helped return some of Phyllis Fread's money.
Surviving elder financial abuse has been tough on their entire family. Mrs. Fread's Parkinson's has gotten worse. She now requires around-the-clock nursing care.
Her son, John, has two questions to people targeting seniors: "Was it really worth it? And, how do you live with yourself?"
If you suspect Elder Abuse, contact the DHS at 1.800.232.3020
Reporting elder abuse and neglect online
Preventing Elder Financial Exploitation: How banks can help
Warning signs of Elder Abuse
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