Since the Mahoning County Sheriff's Department officially opened a satellite office at the Austintown Senior Center for its Senior Services Department, things have turned busy. Senior Services Director Kay Lavalle said she has seen a lot of visitors as well taken many phone calls since the new location became official on Feb. 1.
Mahoning County's Senior Citizens Unit began in 2007 as a way to help seniors with any problems they may encounter. The unit deals with getting seniors help by directing them to the proper agencies and charities as well as dealing with fraud and abuse.
She said seniors have been making the trip to the Austintown Senior Center from all areas of the county. Prior to the satellite office, senior seeking to visit the Senior Citizens Unit had to go to the Mahoning County Jail in Youngstown. Lavalle said it was a bit intimidating for some.
Photo by J.T. Whitehouse, Town Crier
Kay Lavalle from the Mahoning County Sheriff’s Dept.’s Senior Services Department has been busy with clients and phone calls at the new satellite office inside the Austintown Senior Center.
"Fraud is the biggest item that seniors are coming to me for," Lavalle said. "But I am here for any senior in need."
She said seniors today had grown up in a different era and are sometimes too trusting. In many cases they live alone and want to reach out for friendship, which makes them more susceptible to scams.
The latest scams involve Social Security and Microsoft. Lavalle said scammers call seniors and act like they are trying to help them out of a tough situation that actually doesn't exist.
"The latest are calls to seniors saying they owe a fee for Medicaid and their Social Security checks would be held back until it is paid," Lavalle said. "At that point the caller makes it seem like he or she are trying to help and they ask for personal information they will need to help pay the fee."
She said what they end up with is the senior's personal data like Social Security number and date of birth, along with a bank account number that they can now access with the personal information.
"Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security only contact people by mail, not by phone," Lavalle said.
Another scam that has been going around targets seniors with computers. The first step in the scam is the phone call from a person identifying themselves as a Microsoft agent. That person reverts to the old scare tactic by telling the senior that Microsoft has detected a very dangerous computer virus. Then comes the offer to help protect the computer by uploading the proper protection. They have the senior grant remote access to the person, who then can download all the senior's information stored in the computer.
Lavalle said for a senior living alone, the scammer's offer to help can sometimes be taken as a genuine helping hand. In the end, the senior risks the loss of their money they thought was safe in the bank.
Lavalle said by opening the satellite office at the Austintown Senior Center, seniors who come in regarding issues of fraud can see the available services offered by the center. The one key thing is the friendship and camaraderie.
"The Senior Center is open to all seniors in Mahoning County," she said. "It is free to Austintown residents and those outside of Austintown can pay a small fee to belong."
She also mentioned some of the programs the center is offering for seniors that will give them the tools to protect themselves. The first will take place at 11:30 a.m. Friday, Feb. 22. The program will involve personal preparedness for emergencies and disasters. It will focus on preplanning for siuations from a terrorists attack to a natural disaster.
"If you're on medication and have medical issues, then disaster strikes, what are you going to do?" Lavalle said.
The "What's in your Emergency Kit" program is a free program for Senior Center members as is the "Senior Fraud Forum" scheduled for 2 to 4 p.m. Thursday, March 28. This event will be an eye-opener for many seniors as they learn about the latest scams and how to deal with them.
She said locating the center in Austintown was a wise choice as 18 percent of Austintown residents are over 60. It is also centered for the county to make access better for all seniors with a problem.
Lavalle also can be contacted by phone at 330-720-6545. She said since the opening of the new satellite office, there have been times that she has been on the phone all day helping seniors with a variety of problems.