LOCKPORT, N.Y. (WIVB) –  There’s a growing problem in Niagara County affecting seniors. A group focused on elder abuse says they are the invisible victims of the opiate epidemic.

Niagara County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Mike Licino said, “These people will do anything to get their drugs, and they see elderly parents elderly grandparents as an easy target.”

He works with the Coalition For Elder Abuse in Niagara County. He said he’s seen “staggering” growth in the number of fraud cases from victims’ own family members.Many of these cases are motivated by drugs:

Licino said, “These people know what they’re doing. They’ve practiced this skill of deception. It makes them an easy target, or they pray on the kindness; Your sweet Grandmother who would do anything for you, and they know that.”

Licinio says often its family members who are also caretakers or powers of attorney for the victims, meaning they handle their bills too. He says victims have worked their whole lives to build a nest egg, and now that’s being taken advantage of:

Licino said, “The banks will call us a lot of times, and the elderly person won’t want to go after their family member, they’ll want to just let it go.”

The Niagara County District Attorney’s Office says they’ve prosecuted more then 20 cases of internal family fraud so far this year. But as the referrals from adult protective services, The Assistant District Attorney said those numbers are in the hundreds.

Licino said, “Unfortunately the opiates are evil. Once it gets its’ hooks into somebody, they will do anything to chase that next high.”  Leaders say education is a huge part of prevention. Licinio says if you feel you’re at risk, dont’ be afraid to call.

There are many resources available to you. You can contact the Niagara County Office of the Aging if you feel you’ve fallen victim to family fraud. You can also find resources through the New York State Bar Association here.