Sara - How an Elderly Woman was Victimized by an Online Predator and How I Tried to Stop It

Sara - How an Elderly Woman was Victimized by an Online Predator and How I Tried to Stop It

by Michelle L. Belton, CDP, CAEd

So how does a sweet, grey-haired older lady, who is trying to adjust to life as a recent widow and living alone, become included in the unfortunate statistic of almost 5 million older people who are abused annually? 

I met Sara while caring for her husband, Joe. Joe was in his early eighties with a myriad of hard luck health problems.  I took care of Joe till he passed on hospice. I had ample time in those couple of months to become acquainted with Sara, then in her late seventies. They shared a marriage and an average blue-collar life for 40+ years. Life had not been kind to Joe and Sara. Their only son was murdered as a young adult in a hate crime incident involving his learning disabilities. Sara had her own disabilities and challenges. Her low self-esteem, loneliness, and low IQ perpetuated her troubles after Joe's death. 

A well-intentioned insurance salesman decided that Sara needed socialization, company, and the expansion of friends on a global scale, so he procured her a computer. She had never owned one but had a little knowledge from senior classes at the senior community that she lived. Sara spent hours perusing this new tool. She discovered "". 

Sara's social life became so busy and full that she didn't have time to attend the bingo and cards club of her senior living building. She started showing a youthful giddiness and a new vibrancy again. She didn't have time for normal, familiar visitors and her phone was always too busy to talk to her. Sara had found a new life on the phone and computer with new friends. Who could deny her of this? Good for her!

Then the cut off notices started coming in the mail. The rent hasn't been paid for the last 2 months. The utilities are scheduled for a disconnect. The refrigerator has nothing substantial to eat in it, and the cabinets are bare. Sara is starting to look disheveled, unkempt, and sleep deprived. The apartment is a mess of trash, unopened mail, and scraps of paper that people trying to check on her had left on the door.

Sara has a boyfriend. This new boyfriend lives in a poor country. He is desperate to come here to visit Sara. They have consummated their love for each other over the phone, night after night. Day in and day out. Sara has done everything she can to help his plight by wiring him her monthly social security money for the past 3 months. She withdraws every penny at the first of every month, except enough to keep the account open and hails a taxi to Wal-Mart to send it to him. "He loves me! He's coming here to marry me. His wife died too so we have so much in common!" This was the tearful and angry plea to me the day that I confronted her. I couldn't just wave goodbye and ignore all of the signs anymore.

I reorganized and restructured Sara's financial life with payment plans, became the payee for her checks, and had my name added to her bank account. This was no small feat and it entailed dozens of hours in phone calls, official visits, and letter writing. In the meantime, I tried to circumvent the multitude of Amores out of the country that the previous "boyfriend" had passed her personal info and phone number to, who continued to call. I sold the computer. I changed her number. I filed a report with APS (Adult Protective Services). I called the police. The police were not helpful. Our laws protect citizens inside our country. Outside of that, it is a black hole of lawlessness.

After several months of chiseling away at the debt and chaos left from this situation, Sara was finally recovering. She agreed to allow one of my company's caregivers to start helping with her household chores and errands two days a week. The pairing was a good fit and the two became friends. Almost one year later and I felt that this situation was the best that one could hope for Sara.

Then Sara found a new friend. He was homeless and she met him at the bus stop. She didn't need to pay our company to provide a caregiver anymore because this new friend could do everything she needed. In exchange for room and board, he was going to take care of her. 

After Sara fired our company, she demanded that I return her payee rights (she was never deemed mentally incompetent so she was able to do this legally), and took my name off of her bank accounts. I was now worthless to her.

The last that I heard from Sara, she was evicted from her apartment and living in a homeless shelter in Florida. At 80 years old.

Sara's was obviously a case of elder abuse via financial exploitation. According to the National Council on Aging, over 50% of persons with mental impairment, i.e. dementia, Alzheimer's, and brain trauma will be abused. Over 60% of abuses are committed by family members. 

What do we do about this? Who can protect these people? The only real and definitive answer: You. 

There are plenty of groups that represent the problem or that were formed because of the problem: National Adult Protective Services (NAPSA), National Council On Aging (NCOA), League of Older Americans (LOA), National Center for the Victims of Crime (NCVC), etc., etc., etc.

Not one of these multitudes of organizations is worth the ink of their bylaws without the awareness of family, friends, caregivers, clergy, neighbors, and anyone else that happens to notice that one situation that just doesn't seem right and reports it.

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is June 15. This day was created to bring attention to elder abuse, an enormous problem in this country and globally. Seniors are some of the most vulnerable people and thus some of the most likely to be victimized. It shouldn't take a government agency or a special day to make people speak up and be aware, but sometimes that's the nudge we all need to take action.


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Companion Home Care Inc
424 Campbell Ave SW
Roanoke, VA 24016
(540) 981-2255

About Companion Home Care Inc: 

Companion Home Care is a senior home health care, adult care, and child care provider based in Roanoke, VA. Our motto is to provide a "better class of companion for a better quality of life". We accomplish this by hiring the best, most qualified caregivers, and using our knowledge and experience to craft a personalized home care plan for our clients, then match clients with the perfect caregiver based on client needs, personality, and skills required.

Our caregivers help seniors age gracefully, cope with Alzheimer's, dementia, and illnesses, and enjoy healthy and happy lives from the comfort of their own homes. In addition to senior home health care, we also provide home care for adults and children with disabilities, traumatic brain injury and diseases, physical injuries, and special needs in Roanoke, Salem, Vinton, Christiansburg, Blacksburg, Smith Mountain Lake, Moneta, Bedford, and surrounding areas of southwest Virginia.