The elderly losing their savings to scam artists is growing trend. But these days, there is a twist to the story. NBC Bay Area's Stephanie Chuang tells the story of one Bay Area woman who lost everything to someone she least suspected.
At 81 years old, Adeline Cisneroz is trying to rebuild the life she thought was going to be easy. The San Jose mother of five, grandmother of 12, and great-grandmother of six has lived alone since her second husband passed away 15 years ago. She thought she would be able to live out her golden years not just peacefully, but comfortably after saving up tens of thousands of dollars “for any emergency that came up.”
The emergency never came, but the money was taken from her by someone she loved dearly. Her granddaughter had asked to stay at her San Jose home and Cisneroz agreed. However, soon the tone changed from polite houseguest to indignant host, said Cisneroz. “She says, ‘I’m just telling you, it’s my house.’ That’s when I started checking with the bank.” The 81-year-old recalled the heart-wrenching feeling that rippled through her body when she realized that money in all three of her bank accounts was gone - $85,000 wiped clean. Cisneroz said her granddaughter showed a medical insurance agent that she held power of attorney before cashing out her grandmother’s medical policies.
Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Janet Berry said Cisneroz is the profile for the most common victim. “Females in their 80’s. They tend to be alone. Their husbands have passed away already.” Berry added that Cisneroz has become part of a growing number of elders who are being targeted for their money, many times ripped off by their own family members. The biggest problem is that it’s so underreported. Berry explained that only one in 15 cases reach the District Attorney’s office. With this year already on track to beat last year’s total of 46 cases, that means there could be as many as 700 cases of elder financial abuse going unreported each year in Santa Clara County alone. A study conducted by New York City and Cornell University released last year showed just one in 44 cases were officially reported in that state.
The most common situation is a family member getting and then abusing the power of attorney, authorizing said person to act on behalf of the elder in business and legal matters. It often means near or full access to all financial transactions and things like credit cards to house deeds.
“I know I spend nights here just by myself crying, what am I going to do? I’m too old to get a job,” said Cisneroz. “I ask God why are you still keeping me here? You know I’m ready to go anytime.”
Berry said Cisneroz’s granddaughter pleaded guilty to felony elder abuse and was sentenced to eight months in county jail and ordered to pay just over $50,000 in restitution. For now, Cisneroz is living from one social security check to the next. Her heart isn’t the only one that’s broken. Her son, Steve Sanchez, explained through tears that trying to keep his family together has been difficult. “It took some time just to step back and say, ‘Mom, this is not right. This is my niece – this is your granddaughter – this is your family. And that’s the toughest thing to do.”
Despite what has been, at times, insurmountable pain, Cisneroz reminds herself daily that she must move forward. And though she felt her deepest feelings of betrayal from one family member, it’s the rest of the clan that’s still the driving force behind her.
“I have a wonderful son here that helps me a lot. That means a lot to me.”
· Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Janet Berry says all cases of suspected elder abuse should be reported immediately to Adult Protective Services (1-800-414-2002). You can reach Ms. Berry also at firstname.lastname@example.org or (408)792-2790
Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office Elder Fraud Unit:
70 West Hedding Street, West Wing
San Jose, CA 95110
Phone: toll free 1-855-DA-Elder
Elder/Dependent Adult Abuse 24-Hour Reporting:
(800) 414-2002 (CA only)
San Jose Police Department Fraud Unit: (408) 277-4521