Thieves target elderly citizens

Elderly people being 'groomed' for theft and fraud in our community.

Elderly people being 'groomed' for theft and fraud in our community.

AN underbelly of crime targeting Gisborne’s elderly needs to be made public so offenders can't hide their actions behind their victim’s social isolation.

Gisborne police field intelligence officer Paul Conyers said it ranged from low-level to serious offending.

“The low level is the befriending of vulnerable people who lend money but it’s never returned.

“Others have found themselves victims of identity fraud, where mobile phones have been bought in their name and resulted in them being referred to debt collection agencies for not paying the bill.

“We are aware of other situations where elderly individuals have found themselves the repeat victims of theft and fraud as a result of being befriended by people looking for an easy target.

“The most important thing is to raise awareness that it is happening.”

Constable Conyers said the offenders were well aware of the social limitations of their victims, and used that to their advantage to have the crime go undetected.

“We want people to look out for their neighbours and who is hanging about. The message is to be aware of apparent new-found friendships or associations that elderly neighbours are having on a regular basis.

“Ask about the connection. What is the relationship? It is exactly these sorts of things we don’t want going under the radar. We don’t want a hiding place where the elderly can get exploited.”

People waiting outside banks

Mr Conyers was aware of people waiting outside banks on pension payday, who had already planted the seed of friendship earlier.

They came back to capitalise on that and elicit more money from their elderly targets, he said.

“Police treat these types of crime seriously and encourage anyone who has been a victim of this type of activity, or is aware of any suspicious behaviour, to report it to police.”

Mr Conyers said police had ongoing investigations into all the aforementioned cases. Help can also be sought through Age Concern Tairawhiti, which works in conjunction with police, WINZ, banks and Housing New Zealand to make sure information is shared and suspicious behaviour acted upon.

Age Concern Tairawhiti chief executive Frances Toroa recalled an incident a couple of years ago where an elderly gentleman, who owned his own home and had thousands in the bank, was approached by a young woman for sex.

After that encounter, men with alleged gang links continued to turn up to his house. They allegedly asked for money and told him that she was underage, pregnant and he could be done for rape, said Ms Toroa.

Embarrassed, he continued to give them money until his bank account had been cleaned out and his house mortgaged, and eventually sold.

Ms Toroa said the man was now in social housing living off a pension.

There was no evidence the young woman involved was underage and/or pregnant but because of his vulnerability the man was too scared to speak out.

Many crimes unreported

That was the tip of a large iceberg, said Ms Toroa, adding that she knew of other examples and that plenty more went unreported.

A social housing complex on Lytton Road was of particular concern. After hearing about young women hanging around some of the flats, Ms Toroa went door-knocking.

She knocked on one elderly gentleman’s door and when he answered, Ms Toroa asked if he had seen any women loitering around who did not live at the complex.

“He said ‘come in’, and there was a young woman sitting there drinking a glass of wine. It was 11am and I just said,‘It’s a bit early for that isn’t it?’

“They are taking advantage of these people for shelter, booze and food.”

Then there was the example of an elderly lady whose good credit rating was taken advantage of. Ms Toroa said one of the lady’s relatives took her identity three times to rack up hire purchase bills, which were never paid back and debt collectors were called in.

Age Concern was also aware of a case where a Gisborne man in his early 80s, who lives in the country, was now without a car and a few thousand dollars after being befriended by a young woman.

Crimes escalate

“The perpetrator knew that he lived by himself out of town. It started with sex, then continually she asked for money, and a few weeks ago she stole his car and he still hasn’t got it back.”

Ms Toroa confirmed that every fortnight on pension payday you could see people waiting outside the banks to approach people as they came out.

“This particular young girl turned up and asked this elderly gentleman for somewhere to stay. She was in her early 20s, very pretty, and he let her in. He gave her $20,000.

“What I would like to see happen, if there were enough resources, is to post police or Maori wardens outside banks every fortnight looking for vulnerable elderly on their own to keep them safe.

?Another fellow managed to get into a rest home but because he goes to the bank, they found him and followed him back to the rest home.

Ms Toroa said the man moved in to a Rest Home to escape the repeated visits to his home asking for financial help.

“They are lovely old men but they are vulnerable and lonely. These girls don’t care and they groom them for money.”

Ms Toroa says Age Concern is in the process of applying for funding to launch a project called “Men Watch” — to bring awareness about this type of extortion out into the open so that it does not stay in the underbelly to plague Gisborne’s elderly.

AN underbelly of crime targeting Gisborne’s elderly needs to be made public so offenders can't hide their actions behind their victim’s social isolation.

Gisborne police field intelligence officer Paul Conyers said it ranged from low-level to serious offending.

“The low level is the befriending of vulnerable people who lend money but it’s never returned.

“Others have found themselves victims of identity fraud, where mobile phones have been bought in their name and resulted in them being referred to debt collection agencies for not paying the bill.

“We are aware of other situations where elderly individuals have found themselves the repeat victims of theft and fraud as a result of being befriended by people looking for an easy target.

“The most important thing is to raise awareness that it is happening.”

Constable Conyers said the offenders were well aware of the social limitations of their victims, and used that to their advantage to have the crime go undetected.

“We want people to look out for their neighbours and who is hanging about. The message is to be aware of apparent new-found friendships or associations that elderly neighbours are having on a regular basis.

“Ask about the connection. What is the relationship? It is exactly these sorts of things we don’t want going under the radar. We don’t want a hiding place where the elderly can get exploited.”

People waiting outside banks

Mr Conyers was aware of people waiting outside banks on pension payday, who had already planted the seed of friendship earlier.

They came back to capitalise on that and elicit more money from their elderly targets, he said.

“Police treat these types of crime seriously and encourage anyone who has been a victim of this type of activity, or is aware of any suspicious behaviour, to report it to police.”

Mr Conyers said police had ongoing investigations into all the aforementioned cases. Help can also be sought through Age Concern Tairawhiti, which works in conjunction with police, WINZ, banks and Housing New Zealand to make sure information is shared and suspicious behaviour acted upon.

Age Concern Tairawhiti chief executive Frances Toroa recalled an incident a couple of years ago where an elderly gentleman, who owned his own home and had thousands in the bank, was approached by a young woman for sex.

After that encounter, men with alleged gang links continued to turn up to his house. They allegedly asked for money and told him that she was underage, pregnant and he could be done for rape, said Ms Toroa.

Embarrassed, he continued to give them money until his bank account had been cleaned out and his house mortgaged, and eventually sold.

Ms Toroa said the man was now in social housing living off a pension.

There was no evidence the young woman involved was underage and/or pregnant but because of his vulnerability the man was too scared to speak out.

Many crimes unreported

That was the tip of a large iceberg, said Ms Toroa, adding that she knew of other examples and that plenty more went unreported.

A social housing complex on Lytton Road was of particular concern. After hearing about young women hanging around some of the flats, Ms Toroa went door-knocking.

She knocked on one elderly gentleman’s door and when he answered, Ms Toroa asked if he had seen any women loitering around who did not live at the complex.

“He said ‘come in’, and there was a young woman sitting there drinking a glass of wine. It was 11am and I just said,‘It’s a bit early for that isn’t it?’

“They are taking advantage of these people for shelter, booze and food.”

Then there was the example of an elderly lady whose good credit rating was taken advantage of. Ms Toroa said one of the lady’s relatives took her identity three times to rack up hire purchase bills, which were never paid back and debt collectors were called in.

Age Concern was also aware of a case where a Gisborne man in his early 80s, who lives in the country, was now without a car and a few thousand dollars after being befriended by a young woman.

Crimes escalate

“The perpetrator knew that he lived by himself out of town. It started with sex, then continually she asked for money, and a few weeks ago she stole his car and he still hasn’t got it back.”

Ms Toroa confirmed that every fortnight on pension payday you could see people waiting outside the banks to approach people as they came out.

“This particular young girl turned up and asked this elderly gentleman for somewhere to stay. She was in her early 20s, very pretty, and he let her in. He gave her $20,000.

“What I would like to see happen, if there were enough resources, is to post police or Maori wardens outside banks every fortnight looking for vulnerable elderly on their own to keep them safe.

?Another fellow managed to get into a rest home but because he goes to the bank, they found him and followed him back to the rest home.

Ms Toroa said the man moved in to a Rest Home to escape the repeated visits to his home asking for financial help.

“They are lovely old men but they are vulnerable and lonely. These girls don’t care and they groom them for money.”

Ms Toroa says Age Concern is in the process of applying for funding to launch a project called “Men Watch” — to bring awareness about this type of extortion out into the open so that it does not stay in the underbelly to plague Gisborne’s elderly.

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