Hoarders: Prime Targets for Manipulators

March 22, 2016 by

Andrea Estes reported in the March 19, 2016 issue of the Boston Globe about the sad case of Morris Stern, a lonely bachelor who died in 2012. His family and friends were shocked to find out that Morris had allegedly sold several properties valued at approximately $4.5 million to Brian R. Burke for $100. Brian insisted that he and Morris were best friends, and he produced a photocopied deed as proof of the sale. However, everyone close to Morris was sure that he would never do this – Morris may have been eccentric and awkward, but he was extremely frugal. Sadly, Morris was not the first vulnerable person that Burke had victimized.

burnout-384083__180According to Elaine Birchall, a social worker and hoarding expert with 14 years of experience, “Hoarders are prime targets for opportunists who prey on them because they are often isolated, lonely, needy, and vulnerable due to mental illness.”

Birchall has often heard of situations like Stern’s. “I work with people who hoard and those who care about them, and have helped numerous hoarders who have been victimized by ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’. I do not know about Brian R. Burke or Morris Stern’s situation firsthand, so I will leave the question of appropriate justice to the lawyers, but as someone who works to support and heal those who hoard, this is not the first time I have heard of a story like this one.”

“My clients have sometimes come to me after being “groomed”, manipulated, and robbed of both their property and trust.  I have seen people with valuables and real estate “groomed” by false friendships. Sometimes people, who previously acted as sources of help to clean up their homes, later stole from them. When your property is violated, that is one thing,” states Birchall, “but when your trust is violated, that is a wound that doesn’t heal, especially when you were so fragile to begin with.”

It is essential that those who suffer from hoarding disorder have a good system of family, friends, and hoarding-informed, hands-on support to prevent more victims of this type of crime. For helpful resources on the subject of hoarding, and more information about Birchall and her work, see www.hoarding.ca.