An Orange County man was arraigned this morning in San Francisco Superior Court on charges he stole $140,000 from an 86-year-old woman who tried to invest her money with him, prosecutors said. John McTaggart, a 45-year-old former broker, helped the woman secure a legitimate reverse mortgage, according to the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office. He then allegedly convinced her to put the money into annuity accounts, and instead fraudulently deposited the money into his personal account before fleeing to Tennessee, prosecutors said. McTaggart was found and arrested Dec. 4 in Memphis, Tenn., and was extradited to California on March 13. He was arraigned this morning on charges of grand theft, grand theft from an elder and residential burglary, prosecutors said.District Attorney Kamala Harris said today that McTaggart “victimized and actually preyed on” the woman because of her vulnerability.According to police investigators, the woman had responded to a mass mailing advertisement from McTaggart. Investigators said they were unaware of any other alleged victims of McTaggart.McTaggart faces up to eight years in prison, fines and restitution to the victim if convicted, prosecutors said. Harris said this type of fraud is becoming more common, especially against elderly victims.”In this very difficult economic time, a lot of people are becoming very desperate,” she said.People in the community are seeing “more and more predators taking advantage of that desperation,” Harris said.Harris said scammers will target seniors with financial assets, and who, out of misplaced trust and sometimes loneliness, will take them into their confidence.After helping a victim obtain a reverse mortgage, the scammers say, “Now that you’ve got this cash, let me help you invest it,” Harris said.As in the animal kingdom, Harris said, “They figure out who is weak, and they pounce.”Harris and Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting earlier this week announced a public education campaign aimed at teaching residents about finance and how to avoid fraud and scams. The campaign will provide information at churches, community centers and senior centers.
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