SAN ANTONIO -

So many financial crimes against the elderly and disabled have been reported, the Bexar County District’s Office has two prosecutors who specialize in those types of exploitation cases by strangers or family members.

“We have hundreds of cases at any given time, ranging from credit card and debit card abuse all the way up to powers of attorney and misapplication cases,” said Joanne Woodruff, an assistant criminal district attorney in the elder fraud unit.

Woodruff’s partner, Derek Hilley, said he believes those crimes are on the rise because account information and pin numbers are easy to get from trusting individuals.

“That’s why the Texas Legislature thought it important that they elevated those crimes,” Hilley said.

He said it is a third-degree felony with up to 10 years in prison for credit card abuse involving an elderly victim.

Woodruff said recently, a nurse lost his license after being getting the maximum sentence for stealing $200 with a debit card.

“That’s how serious this is,” Woodruff said.

She said exploitation of the disabled already is a third degree felony with a punishment range of two to ten years.

Hilley said despite the volume of cases, they are under reported.

“They don’t want to report the crime or they’re too embarrassed to report the crime,” Hilley said.

But he said they should because often they’re able to recoup what was taken, and hold someone accountable for the crime.

“We have a paper trail that can show how the money was taken, who took it and what they did with it,” Woodruff said.

Woodruff also says if anyone suspects wrongdoing, contact the state’s hotline for Adult Protective Services, 1-800-252-5400.

“They’ll be able to make an assessment of a potential crime or if there’s been a crime,” Woodruff said.

She said if there is, the agency will contact local law enforcement that can then file a case with the District Attorney’s Office.

She and Hilley also recommend notifying banks or credit card companies as soon as possible, as well as law enforcement.

Woodruff and Hilley also said they are available to speak to groups of seniors, homeowners and others about the risks and protective measures.

She also said valuable contact information can be found on the back of decorative placemats they often hand out at those events.

Woodruff said not only that, “Senior citizens love them because they’re handy. They use them for meals. Trust me.”