Wichita Officials here estimate that as many as 3,500 elderly Sedgwick County residents are robbed every year by scam artists, family "caregivers" or other thieves.
But a task force organized by District Attorney Nola Foulston is keeping a closer eye on financial transactions of senior citizens. The Financial Abuse Specialist Team, formed in October, enlists the help of volunteers such as bank employees, U.S. postal employees, Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services workers, federal agents and elderly mental health specialists.
Margie McFrederick is a banker who says workers watch for elderly customers coming in regularly to withdraw money with the help of a nonrelative who does all the talking.
They also watch for seniors who start making small, unexplained withdrawals from their savings accounts, aware that scam artists call confused elderly people at home and pretend to be from a bank, asking for all sorts of banking information and Social Security numbers.
"One of the worst parts about this is that the elderly involved are from a generation that trusted people and has a lot of pride," said McFrederick, a vice president at Emprise bank. "So they often don't report it when they are robbed."
Authorities say only a fraction of such crimes against elderly residents get reported. Between July 2007 and July 2008, the state received 184 reports of "fiduciary abuse and exploitation."
April Shine, supervisor of the SRS's Adult Protective Services, said that in the four months since July 1 this year, there already have been 107 reports.
Foulston set aside money in her budget last year to build a new financial crimes investigative team, which now is compiling evidence for several cases.
One of the cases prosecuted by the team was that of John Hartley, who began conning money out of Mildred Patterson, an elderly Wichita woman with dementia, in 2003.
In early 2004 Patterson's son Ray, a California resident, became convinced that Hartley was stealing thousands of dollars from his mother.
Ray Patterson said his first attempt to alert authorities ended in disappointment.
"The district attorney's office moved way too slow then," he said. "They've done the right thing by forming this team, but back then it moved too slow."
The Financial Abuse Specialist Team was the idea of Dana Gouge, a former homicide detective who handcuffed Dennis Rader, the BTK killer, in 2005. He was appointed last year to help with the elder fraud task force.
Gouge said the goals of FAST are to go after criminals and warn people through educational programs about potential scams.
Hartley was arrested in January. Gouge and other members of Foulston's office estimated that he had stolen as much as $67,000 from Patterson by using her credit cards and taking things from her in other ways.
Hartley pleaded guilty and is on probation for stealing from Patterson, who died in January 2007 at the age of 81.