George Auld stood before the teller at his local Credit Union, the same Credit Union he had banked at all his life. Bereft of all emotion, and not uttering a word, he placed a withdrawal slip on her counter indicating he was making $6000 debit, in cash, from his savings account. He had made similar requests every second day for the past few weeks.
Previously, the tellers did as he had asked, and withdrew large amounts of cash placing the bills into an envelope. With a smile, they slid the envelope across the counter where he grasped it with gnarled fingers, and with nary a hint of appreciation nor a simple nod, turned and walked to a disheveled man standing at the back door of the Credit Union. Together, they left.
Tiffany Ballantyne had served George Auld for several years, and had known the man to be very frugal with his money. It wasn’t anything new to her. George was 93 years old, and having grown up during two world wars and the dirty Thirties, most seniors his age had developed habits of hoarding their money in case another Depression struck. Seeing their account balances ranging in the millions was not a surprise to Tiffany. George Auld was one of these people.
For some reason, Tiffany was taken aback by the hollowness George displayed that day. She described him to her manager, Marilyn Bocking, as a zombie, alive yet dead. The two women wound back the security video to the point where George entered the branch from the back door, and watched the transaction.
“There,” Tiffany said pointing to a rough looking man in his early 50’s, “That’s the guy who’s been bringing him the past few weeks. I asked the other MSR’s and they described the same guy.”
She sat back, and crossed her arms while staring blankly out the office window. “Something is not right Marilyn. I think that guy at the back door is using Mr. Auld to get at his money. We should call the police.”
Marilyn had worked at the Credit Union for two decades, and had seen just about every scam one could imagine. She agreed with her teller however they had no evidence to prove George Auld was being scammed. What she did have was my business card.
In the world of business, connections are so important. Knowing the right people at the right time can make concerns disappear very quickly. When I was first transferred into the Commercial Crime Section of the Saskatoon Police Service, I took on the portfolio of investigating scams that targeted older adults. My true calling was preventing a Power of Attorney abuse, however I saw the current generation of retired folks as being extremely vulnerable, especially given the advent of the internet. I made it a habit to introduce myself to all the managers of the financial institutions in the City, however went to great lengths to make personal, trusting connections with our credit union managers as this was where many seniors did their banking
Marilyn gave me a phone call, and asked me to drop into the branch. I viewed the security tape, found George Auld’s name on-line, and paid him a visit.
It was a typical hot summer day as I walked up the front steps of George Auld’s home, a small two story, stuccoed house built in the 1940’s. It had a steep roof with a dormer out the front and was suffering from years of neglect.
The inside wooden door was open leaving just the screen door shut allowing the hot breeze in while keeping the mosquitoes at bay. I knocked on the aluminum door and waited. After what seemed like an eternity, a tiny, stooped and very pale old man appeared on the other side of the screen. I held up my police badge, and identified myself as a police detective sergeant.
The man looked at my badge, reached for the screen door handle, and pushed to open unlatching the catch. He then turned, and disappeared into the living room as silently as he had first come. I walked in.
The elderly man was seated in the far corner of the room in an overstuffed easy chair which made his diminutive size that much smaller. The entire floor was covered knee deep in newspaper, flyers, magazines and strangely enough, church bulletins. A path was open to the left of the “Y” leading to the afore mentioned chair, and to the right allowing access to his kitchen.
“George Auld?” I asked, in an almost reverential tone of voice. Respect for seniors had always been important to an empath such as myself.
For the first time, he raised his head, looked at me, and nodded.
I glanced around the room noting several stacks of mail on his dining room table, and a pass-through window from the kitchen to the dining room. On the ledge of the pass-through were two bowls of soggy cereal, and a couple of small plates containing slices of toast.
“Dementia,” I thought. “He made himself breakfast, forgot he had done so, so made himself another after a while. In his confusion, he ate neither.”
Looking at the stack of mail in the table, I noticed several handwritten receipts made out to George Auld indicating that he had had work done around the house the past two weeks. I gathered up 5 of these receipts which were very crude, written in pencil on a piece of lined paper from a notebook employing the writing skills used by a typical Gr. 2 student.
“Rebilt and paint fense” stated one receipt. “$6,000.00.”
”New shingels and nales,” said another. $15,000.”
I walked over to Mr. Auld, and asked, “You’ve been getting some work done on the house?”
He rose from his chair, and walked along the path turning left at the junction, then began to climb the stairs to the upper level. As I followed, I saw small chunks of white plaster the size of a silver dollar on each step of the carpeted stairs. A glance at the ceiling told me everything I needed to know.
The scammers had indeed shingled his roof however, they had used 12” nails penetrating the 2”x4” roof trusses used back in the day sending the nail ends through the plastered inside roof. There were hundreds of nails sticking out of the plaster overhead as we ascended to stairs.
In one bedroom, George gestured to a homemade quilt on the bed. I reached for it, and found it to be holding several gallons of water. A quick look under the bed revealed that every time it stormed out, the entire upstairs of the house came alive with an internal rain storm. Water was everywhere.
Our next stop on the tour of home repairs was the backyard where George sat in a lawn chair under the shade of a very large Elm tree. I wandered the length of the fence, saw nothing but chipping, peeling paint, and grey, split pickets that had been left untreated for many years. There were no repairs ever made nor painting done on his fence.
Another receipt stated they had treated his basement, and cement driveway with a chemical that would prevent it from drying out. George Auld shuffled over to the garden hose indicating they had done nothing more than spray his cement with water. $18,000.
This was a classic case of home improvement scams targeting a vulnerable senior who they had discovered seated in his lawn chair in the backyard. As is their modus operandi, they had cruised the alleys looking for a victim to scam.
George Auld lived in was a post-depression era neighbourhood where most of the houses had either been sold to younger families, or were still occupied by the original owners, some in their early 90’s, as in this case. These thieves, though uneducated, weren’t stupid. Having gotten to old to hold sway within the drug or prostitution game that they had previously been kingpins in, they instead turned to a safer way to make money…scamming seniors.
Once back inside the home, I looked for any information that would lead me to a person I could contact. The prevalence of weekly church bulletins was the link I needed. I called the pastor of the church George attended, explained the situation and got a phone number for a daughter of George’s who was working overseas. A quick phone call started the wheels in motion as she booked flights home.
Fingerprints were found on the handwritten receipts which led me to my suspect. Mugshots verified that the rough looking man in the security tape was the same man who had handled the receipts. I issued a warrant for his arrest, which came the next day as a patrol car working that district, now alerted of a possible vehicle registered to the suspect, found the old Fargo pickup cruising the alleys in the area. Three men, all in their 50’s were arrested. I charged each with Fraud over $5000. Guilty pleas all around ended their latest attempt at being entrepreneurs.
The daughter arrived home, had her dad assessed which showed Stage 4 Alzheimer’s, and moved him out of the home, and into a care facility George died 3 months later
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
-Did you call the contractor, or did they call you? If you called them, get an estimate, and do not commit to any work
-Ask for addresses where you can view their handiwork. Reputable contractors will gladly provide addresses.
-Ask for contact information of former clients
-Get several estimates from other companies
-Look at their work orders, business cards, mode of dress and their vehicle. Are they professional looking, or at least clean?
-Do not give them the entire amount requested. Only give them a downpayment until the work is complete. No more than 50%.
-Do they have a tax number on their quote sheet? Reputable firms claim their income, and pay taxes such as provincial (Canada), State (US) and federal taxes.
-Get a second option from family or friends before you agree to the work
-Never pay in cash
-If it sounds to good…it’s probably a scam. Call the police.
STAY SAFE. ASK QUESTIONS. TELL A FRIEND.
Sgt. Brian Trainor is a retired fraud detective, and the only police officer in Canada to actively investigate Power of Attorney abuse crimes. He’s the author of the book “STOP FRAUD” which outlines 12 scams that target seniors, and what to do to stay safe.
Check out his webpage at http://www.bully4u.ca