Authorities warn Austin’s growing elderly population about abuse, scams

Sept 07, 2018
  • By Maria Mendez
  • American-Statesman Staff
Lynda M. Gonzalez
Austin police officer James Hyatt hands a door prize to Joyce Evans at the 2018 Seniors and Law Enforcement Together safety fair at the Lamar Senior Activity Center on Friday. LYNDA M. GONZALEZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

As Austin’s aging population grows, more senior citizens become susceptible to physical abuse and financial scams, police say.

To promote awareness of these risks, the Seniors and Law Enforcement Together council held its 13th annual safety fair with the Austin Police Department at the Lamar Senior Activity Center on Friday.

Among the nation’s fastest growing populations older than 65, the Austin metro area’s ranked No. 2, according to the 2010 census.

“Our elderly are living longer, which makes them more susceptible to abuse,” said Samuel Cortina, a community engagement specialist for Texas Adult Protective Services. Austin had 12,837 elderly abuse reports in 2017, according to the agency.

Bertha Sellers, a 79-year-old attendee, said she experienced abuse from a family member but never reported it out of fear.

“I should have reported it when (protective services) came to me to help, but I didn’t want to go through with it because it was family and I didn’t want to drag them through the mud,” Sellers said.

Abuse or signs of potential abuse, such as physical injuries and dramatic emotional or financial shifts in a senior citizen, should be reported to police or to Adult Protective Services.

Austin ranked fourth-highest among Texas cities in allegations of elderly abuse and financial exploitation for fiscal 2017, Cortina said.

Clinton Henderson, a 93-year-old member of the SALT committee, said his biggest concern is financial exploitation, so he volunteers with Austin police to share awareness about scams targeting older residents.

“There’s all kinds of frauds and scams going around from people trying to take advantage of senior citizens by asking them for money,” Henderson said.

Officer William Harvey told event attendees that they should avoid phone calls, emails and texts requesting personal information such as a Social Security number, even if the senders claim to be from a bank, the Internal Revenue Service or a state agency.

“Take their name and information and call your bank or the company to verify,” Harvey said. “Most of the time they won’t even be employees.”

Officer James Hyatt said scammers also might pretend to be a person or a family member in need of financial assistance.

Cortina said a lot of senior citizens do not always know reporting physical, emotional or financial abuse is an option.

“A lot of people don’t even know what our agency is,” Cortina said. “And when we talk to seniors, they’ll tell us ‘I didn’t know that was a crime.’”

SALT committee Chairwoman Veronica Saltado said the safety fair is held every year.

“It’s important to do it to get the word out there because seniors don’t always have a Facebook or are online,” Saltado said.