Salazar's ElderWatch meeting today

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Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar is coming to Steamboat today to talk about the financial exploitation of seniors. It is an issue the Routt County Sheriff's Office knows all too well.

Sheriff John Warner and deputy Elise Anders easily can list times financial fraud has touched the lives of seniors in Routt County.

One elderly man was getting more than 40 pounds of magazines a month because he couldn't say no to the company's telemarketers. Another man was writing blank checks to his caregiver, who was then cashing them for thousands of dollars, taking $5,000 to $10,000 in an 18-month period.

Countless home improvement scams have been reported to the sheriff's office, usually involving companies who provide shoddy work at inflated prices, disappearing before a homeowner can complain.

Assistant Attorney General for Consumer Protection Joan Padilla said seniors often are targeted by frauds and scams, and can be seen as being more vulnerable than other demographic groups.

At 12:15 p.m. today, Salazar will talk about seniors' issues and the statewide effort to reduce fraud and financial exploitation. Salazar also will talk about the ElderWatch Program, a joint project between the Attorney General's Office and the AARP intended to stop the financial exploitation of seniors.

Padilla said the Attorney General's Office receives calls from victims looking for assistance after a crime. The ElderWatch program is designed to be proactive, asking seniors to call to check if they think there could be fraud and to report cases if they have been victims.

"We like to give some consumer information up front to make sure (seniors) do not get into trouble in the first place," she said.

Statistics show that 5 percent of seniors are victims of elder abuse and only one in five cases are believed to be reported. Of those elder abuse cases, it is estimated that 40 percent of the victims have been financially exploited.

Financial abuse can be found in credit card fraud, real property transfers, check use, telemarketing and sweepstake scams, home improvement scams and using a elder's bank card.

This week, Salazar is visiting Steamboat and Holyoke.

State Sen. Jack Taylor, R-Steamboat Springs, and Rep. Al White, R-Winter Park, also are expected to attend the forum.

Padilla stressed the forum is not just for seniors. She said it would have information that people in banking, the business community or social services could use.

"If there is someone who takes meals to seniors, someone who goes to church with seniors, it is important for people to be aware of (financial exploitation) and for the whole community to be involved and to participate," she said.

Andres heads the ElderWatch Program in Routt County. She makes contact with seniors across the county, talking to them about the frauds and scams that are out there, but also helping to meet other day-to-day needs they have.

Regional AARP Assistant Director Amy Nofziger helped train Andres and other law enforcement agents. She said the ElderWatch program in Routt County has been modeled to fit the community and is further along than most other programs in the state.

"Law enforcement is the first line of defense," she said.

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