SPOKANE, Wash. - The future of the Vulnerable Adult Linked Organizational Response Program in Spokane is uncertain. The city is not completely eliminating the V.A.L.O.R Program, but it is losing its leadership.
Up until recently, there was a detective dedicated to investigating crimes against vulnerable adults. However, that detective has been moved to the property crimes division and is not being replaced. With no detective heading the program, investigating these crimes will fall on other members of the police department.
Bonnie McDade, Executive Director of the Southside Senior and Community Center, says she is concerned because she sees victims on a regular basis.
"With the electronic, global world we are living in, they [criminals] are getting away with murder," McDade said. "The telephone calls that keep coming, people don't know, especially people who are seniors who are use to a different way of life. I think they are use to more honest people to tell you the truth."
Of the more than 400,000 people in Spokane, 13.3% are 65-years-old or older. This means there are nearly 63,000 seniors in the community that could be targeted by scams.
"Our community has a huge amount of elderly or retired persons in our community, as well as vulnerable adults," said Fraud Investigator Joyce Lockard. "Also, as other crimes increase, so does this crime."
These scams show up in different forms and the criminals who run them know exactly how to prey on peoples' emotions. The scammers send emails, make phone calls or in the case of the sweetheart scams, criminals even pretend to be involved in a romantic relationship.
We spoke with a woman who had been in contact with a man for several months before he started asking her for money. At first, he claimed he needed money for his daughter to have surgery and then the list went on from there. It wasn't until the detective from the vulnerable adult unit contacted her, that she realized it was a scam.
The criminals will use every tool at their disposal to dupe victims, so there is a lot to consider when working with vulnerable adults.
"You have to have the knowledge of what you're looking for and the types of fraud you're looking for," Lockard said. "You have to know how to approach an elderly person, you have to build that rapport and that relationship with that victim and there's going to be no one to do that."
In many of these cases people are too embarrassed to come forward. The Spokane Police Department estimates that only 20% of people actually report these crimes, so it could be happening a lot more often than we think.