The elderly are all too easy prey in a society rife with smooth-talking liars and despicable con artists. But the story of 90-year-old Ruby Young is particularly unsettling.
As her cautionary tale played out in a Bradenton courtroom this month, we learned Young guarded her finances well. In retirement, she purchased a home with an apartment that she leased out.
She did the right thing in vetting potential tenants. Late payments would bring eviction. And Young kept "meticulous" bank account records, a very wise practice for one and all but especially important in uncovering theft.
Tenant Nathain L. Moyer wormed his way into her good graces. He told Young he needed medicine and took her to an ATM numerous times in 2011 and 2012 to get money.
Moyer also "borrowed" money from her in an age-old scam perpetrated around the globe: He had to pay legal fees in order to secure an inheritance. Another big lie. He shorted his landlord on rent payments. In proving to be a complete scoundrel, he also stole blank checks.
Young's son-in-law, Mark Clark, testified that her bank even noticed the suspicious ATM withdrawals and checks -- more than 200 instances. Almost $30,000 went missing from Young's bank accounts. Yet bank officials failed to inform Young's family, even with her daughter's standing as a joint account holder.
But last month several federal and state agencies launched new guidelines so banks and other institutions can report illegal or suspicious activity. Federal law provides exceptions to privacy rules to allow financial institutions to report suspected fraud and unauthorized transactions -- a necessity in this age of instant digital banking.
Moyer pleaded no contest to exploitation of an elderly person and check forgery. In handing down a stiff five-year prison sentence to Moyer and ordering restitution, Judge John Lakin admonished the defendant in words very appropriate for this case: "I find the conduct to be horrific."
Young's losses forced her to drain her retirement accounts to stabilize her finances and pay daily living expenses.
In Florida's 12th Judicial Circuit, State Attorney Ed Brodsky put exploitation of the elderly as one of his top priorities during last year's election campaign. Once in office, he launched a special white-collar prosecution unit to pursue scam artists and others who exploit seniors -- a welcome emphasis considering the circuit's large elderly population.
According to the Florida Attorney General's Office, the U.S. population of seniors over 65 is 13 percent but that demographic accounts for 30 percent of scam victims. Fraud cases can involve identity theft, prescription drug and health care discount card schemes, bogus sweepstakes, high-pressure telemarketing fraud and home improvement scams.
Price gouging on the rental or sale of essential goods after a natural disaster is another.
A new one could be coming from health insurance sales campaigns that purport to market Affordable Care Act programs. Be wary.
And get educated. The attorney general's website -- myfloridalegal.com -- offers links to useful resources and a new brochure, "Smart Consumers Can Stop Fraud: A Guide for Seniors."
Ruby Young told Judge Lakin: "Nathain is the first con person I have experienced. He is a slick one. He has the next lie thought up before he needs it so his story fits together nicely."
Let that be a lesson for us all. Trust can be exploited. As President Ronald Reagan once famously said, "Trust, but verify."