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Rogue River police report more crimes against the elderly

An uptick in thefts and burglaries have police warning seniors to be cautious around those who may be playing on their sympathies while they're actually on the hunt for cash to feed their drug habits.

A tendency to believe the best in people, combined with aging minds and bodies, can make the elderly prime targets for petty thieves, agreed Rogue River Police Chief Ken Lewis.

"I hate to use the word petty," said Lewis. "Any crime is a big crime to the person it happens to."

Rogue River police were called to the local Umpqua Bank on April 25 after bank officials became suspicious when a white male allegedly attempted to cash a check on the account of an 85-year-old Grants Pass woman, said Lewis.

The suspect, Zakuri Scott Williams, 28, already had fled on foot after becoming nervous waiting at the counter while a bank employee called the account holder seeking verification on the $140 check, Lewis said.

After obtaining bank surveillance photos, police were able to positively identify the suspect as Williams, who had earlier tried to cash the check at the drive-through window while sitting in a vehicle with a white adult female, whom police believe is the great-granddaughter of the victim, Lewis said.

Police later interviewed the elderly victim at her home, just outside the city limits of Rogue River. After searching her home, the victim found one book of new blank checks was missing. She also confirmed that the name of the payee on the forged check was her granddaughter's boyfriend, Zakuri Williams. The victim told police that her granddaughter had needed a place to stay for the night because she is homeless and is "on drugs," Lewis said. The woman told police that Williams had briefly been allowed inside her home the morning of the incident to use her bathroom, he said.

Lewis is seeing "more and more cases of smaller thefts" such as car break-ins, purses lifted, wallets stolen and jewelry pilfered in Rogue River, he said.

"Suspects are looking for things they can turn into cash for drugs," Lewis said, adding that the criminal activity answers the age-old question of "where do they get the money?"

Lewis is investigating another alleged crime that is very similar to the April 25 alleged check forgery.

"Someone was taking checks from a family member," Lewis said, adding the amount believed to have been stolen was about $400.

Lewis said victims of checking thefts are forced to close their existing accounts, because the thieves have their routing numbers and other personal identification.

Lewis is anxious to speak with Williams, whom he suspects has relocated to the Klamath Falls area. His most recent information states Williams is staying with other family members "trying to clean up off drugs," Lewis said.

"Hopefully he'll read this story, come see me, and explain what he was doing at the bank," he said.

Theft is the most often reported crime, year in and year out, said Medford police Chief Tim George.

Misdemeanor thefts have risen 25 percent in the past year, he said.

"Often the crimes occur when someone known to the victim takes their purse, wallet or ATM card," George said.

Frequently the people perpetrating the crimes are "having a problem feeding their addictions," he said.

"They'll steal something they can turn and sell," he said "They'll pawn it or trade it for drugs or sell it on Ebay."

Seniors come from an era where people in general were more trusting of strangers, and most have a hard time suspecting friends and family members might be up to no good, he said.

"They're still trusting, God bless them," said George.

When something turns up missing, they often first assume they misplaced the item themselves. Seniors with failing memories might even wonder whether they gave permission for a family member to take something and simply do not remember doing so, Lewis said.

The bottom line is seniors need to be more cautious, George said. They need to know who is in their home and why, he said.

"It's sad that Mayberry is gone. But it is," George said.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or email sspecht@mailtribune.com.