Authorities help seniors avoid being crime victims

MARQUETTE – Recent local cases of fraud and stealing – with senior citizens as the victims – have prompted creation of a background check form that is available at all four Marquette County senior centers.

“It’s a trend we’re seeing, an up tick in both in Michigan and nationally,” said Marquette County Prosecutor Matt Weise. “As the Baby Boomer generation gets older, the needs for care are there. We have had a couple of tragic cases locally in which seniors have been taken advantage of. Things they have had their entire lives have been stolen.”

Those who work with seniors have heard of these cases and are worried.

“I had heard from a couple of colleagues who work with seniors who had concerns about seniors being victimized,” said Lisa Balko, social work coordinator at the Marquette Senior Citizens Center. “That led to a meeting in which we talked about how we could collaborate to do something about it. We brainstormed and we talked about what’s legally allowable for background checks.”

The group became known as the Marquette County Senior Safety Coalition and brought together agencies and individuals concerned about older area residents and their safety.

“Seniors and others when they hire someone can be too trusting. They might not be aware of options that are available to them,” Balko said. “Now we’re making a clear path for them to follow. It’s a process, with clear steps, to follow.”

The forms, developed with the help of local law enforcement, are available at the seniors centers in Marquette, Ishpeming, Gwinn and Negaunee as well as at the Superior Alliance for Independent Living office in Marquette. They will allow access to information about any type of record the individual might have with the police or prosecutor’s office, Weise said, material covered by the Freedom of Information Act.

“The background check forms are available to a senior who is going to hire someone privately to do work for them around the home,” said Lindsay Juricek, social worker at the Negaunee Senior Center. “We are working on getting a brochure (about this) out to places like doctor’s offices and other places for seniors who don’t use local centers.”

Balko said the form is simple, but seniors who have difficulty seeing well enough to fill out the information are welcome at their local senior center to receive help in completing the document.

“I have to say that law enforcement has been wonderful in helping with this,” Balko said. “They have been receptive and supportive. Gordie Warchock (captain of detectives with the Marquette Police Department) and Matt Weise have been great.”

Warchock, in turn, praised Balko and the others who got this project rolling.

“Lisa has been instrumental in this. She and a lot of other senior providers have put tons of work into this,” he said.

“In this day and age, we have instances of people going into seniors homes and taking advantage of them, stealing valuables and prescriptions or getting into their checking accounts,” Warchock said. “These background checks are a good idea to help prevent that from happening.”

Warchock said seniors looking to hire help should view the background checks as a tool.

“This is a way to avoid problems,” he said. “Before you enter into an employment relationship, it’s just good business to know who you’re hiring. You don’t want to hire someone who might cause problems. You want the best candidate and this is a tool that will add to the interview process.”

Weise advised that, as difficult as it is to discuss, family members are not above taking advantage of their elders.

“Unfortunately, it has been more prevalent with a relative who might do this. They might have someone come in as a ‘quick fix’ and then afterward say ‘we shouldn’t have let Susie take care of aunt Martha.’ Families need to be proactive in these cases,” Weise said.

Having background checks available should have an immediate effect, Balko said.

“We are hoping this will be a huge deterrent to those trying to steal from seniors,” she said. “We know that, unfortunately, they are out there. For seniors, this is a way to help them make informed decisions while maintaining their independence.”

Weise added: “Anyone in the community who needs assistance in their home should voice any concerns to their direct care providers or bring their concerns to our group. We will do whatever we can to help.”

Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253.