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How to protect Utah's elderly from financial abuse

Brett and Alan Ormsby’s grandfather lost over $3.5 million in a Ponzi scheme. (Greg Anderson, KSL TV)

HIGHLAND — Elder fraud often goes unreported and is difficult to prosecute, but the crime can cost seniors huge sums of money and years of grief.

Brett and Alan Ormsby's grandfather was hardworking and thrifty. "James Robert Miller was his name," said Brett Ormsby, who lives in Highland.

"He grew up in the Great Depression," Ormsby said, adding his grandfather was also generous. "He paid for our missions and helped people with schooling."

Twenty years ago, he invested in some properties out of state.

"What they really were doing was kind of running a Ponzi scheme. They were taking money in from a variety of investors and then not putting it back into any of the apartment complexes," said Alan Ormsby, AARP Utah state director.

Their grandfather lost "over $3.5 million," Brett Ormsby said.

Sadly, elder fraud is on the rise.

"We've seen millions of dollars taken from seniors," said Nan Mendenhall, director of the state's Adult Protective Services Division. She said they've seen a 25% increase in two years, and it's usually someone they trust.

"Someone close to the grandparent or parent is the alleged perpetrator in these type of cases," Mendenhall said.

Red flags

Experts said it's important to know the signs of financial exploitation.

According to Adult Protective Services, they include:

  • Disappearance of possessions
  • Being forced to sell your home or change the will
  • Getting overcharged for home repairs

"Often, they're without any means," Mendenhall said. "They're not getting their bills paid, they're going without food."

Mendenhall suggested letting someone you trust review contracts. "You can never be too careful," she said.

The Ormsbys' grandfather won a lawsuit. "It was very comforting to have my grandfather realize, 'No, I was defrauded,'" Brett Ormsby said. He collected little money.

Still, his legacy is one money can't buy. "Grandchildren, children, great-grandchildren, and they're all doing well."

If you suspect elder fraud, Adult Protective Services can help. Reporting it is anonymous.

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Heather Simonsen


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