Investigator: Financial crimes against elderly going high tech

10:55 PM, Sep 17, 2012   |    comments
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CLEVELAND -- After testifying about dozens of credit card charges he says he didn't authorize -- for computers and building supplies to lingerie and wigs -- retired Cleveland police officer Leo Hayes couldn't take it anymore.

"They're evil. They're evil-doers," Hayes said, while seated in the witness box. "That's what brought on my heart trouble and more cancer. I was on the verge of strangling her."

Hayes' anger was aimed at his granddaughter, Adrienne Dye, and her former husband, Frank, sitting a stone's throw away at the defense table.

Both were accused of stealing more than $120,000 from Hayes after moving into his Richmond Heights home to save money.

As laid out by prosecutors, the case against the Dyes was an example of a new twist on an old crime, and authorities are having a hard time keeping up.

Experts say criminals are using online banking, identity theft and other high-tech financial dealings to steal from the elderly. The Dyes were accused of using online banking to hide their use of Hayes' debit card.

More than 2,300 victims reported being scammed last year in Ohio, although the true figure is likely five times higher because older adults often don't report the crimes to authorities.

Nationwide, it's estimated that nearly $3 billion is stolen each year from older adults. 

Banks and credit card companies simply aren't equipped to catch people who are using an older adult's credit card for themselves, said Richard Browdie, of the Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging.     

"They're looking for theft of your credit cards, they're not looking for erratic patterns," said Browdie.  

This July, a resident buzzed three men into this senior home and distributed leaflets offering deals on clothing, furniture and appliances. But Better Business Bureau says they were really looking for Social Security numbers. At least two people called.

The Hayes case, however, represented another problem with such crimes: They can be difficult to prosecute.

"Nailing down the how and when and by whom is extremely difficult," said Browdie.

Judge Robert McClelland found the couple not guilty. While it was clear Adrienne and Frank Dye were "spending like drunken sailors," the judge could not say they had committed a criminal act.

"The court can only speculate, which doesn't equate to proof beyond a reasonable doubt," McClelland said, following a two-week bench trial.

The judge said Hayes provided conflicting testimony and that Adrienne Dye was authorized to use the cards because she had power of attorney.


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