The recent arrest of a Rainier man after a five-month investigation into alleged elder abuse is prompting the St. Helens Police Department to warn seniors about the need to protect themselves against identity theft.
On Saturday, Nov. 13, St. Helens police arrested 43-year-old Rolland Miller after a lengthy investigation, led by St. Helens detectives, discovered that an elderly, vulnerable adult in St. Helens had their bank account compromised.
According to a news release from the police department, detectives found over 120 suspicious charges resulting in nearly $6,000 being stolen from the victim.
A Columbia County grand jury indicted Miller on 44 counts of identity theft related to the investigation. Miller awaits trial after being taken to the Columbia County Jail.
Detective Matthew Smith of the St. Helens Police Department spoke with the Spotlight to give advice to seniors, and for that matter, anyone interested in making sure they don't become a victim of identity theft.
According to Smith, anyone, regardless of age, is vulnerable to their bank account information being stolen. He notes this is particularly true over the last decade, as conducting banking and purchasing retail goods have shifted to a predominately online activity.
The more business that is done online, he said, the more of a digital footprint we leave online for our identity and banking information to be stolen.
Smith adds, "Senior citizens and vulnerable adults may also have additional difficulties reviewing online transactions and navigating the various processes for contesting fraudulent charges."
Addressing seniors in Columbia County, Smith said, "While seniors are not a specific target of online identify theft or having their bank account information stolen, we do consider seniors to be a more vulnerable demographic."
Nearly one in five Columbia County residents is 65 or older, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Smith noted that senior citizens can become victims of financial abuse for a variety of reasons.
"Some seniors and vulnerable adults rely on caretakers to oversee their finances," he said. "Most financial exploitation cases involving these groups are not perpetrated by strangers. In fact, it usually involves a trusted person or family member."
One particularly vulnerable group are seniors experiencing dementia. These individuals may be financially exploited by their caretaker and can suffer in silence.
The St. Helens Police Department's advice for everyone who partakes in online purchasing or banking is to check their accounts for fraudulent activity.
Also, keep your passwords secure and change them regularly. Smith notes that a financial institution or another trusted source will generally never ask for your full Social Security number, PIN or other sensitive information to verify your identity.
The police department says attorneys who specialize in elder law and estate law are a critical resource for seniors, as they can develop plans and systems to protect the financial health of vulnerable adults and seniors.
St. Helens police emphasize that criminals are creating new ways to steal your identity and banking information all the time.
If you suspect you or another senior is the victim of fraud or identity theft, call the St. Helens Police Department at 503-397-1521 or Oregon's Adult Protective Services at 1-855-503-SAFE.
St. Helens detectives worked in collaboration with the Oregon Department of Human Services on the Miller investigation.
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