Some Maine Sunday Telegram readers remember Pauline Long as the lunch lady from school. Others know her husband, Cedric, as the older man who takes walks in his Camden neighborhood and greets all the dogs with treats. Many people didn’t know them at all, but felt moved by the Longs’ story to help the elderly couple, who were financially exploited by their daughter-in-law and son.

Regardless of their reasons, neighbors from just down the street – and strangers from as far away as Scotland and Hong Kong – had raised more than $9,200 as of Friday for the Longs.

“I read the story and was horrified by it. I lost sleep about it. I put it on Facebook and there was this miraculous rush of people asking, ‘How can we help?’ ” said Loriel Van Dusen of Camden. “I thought: ‘Why am I just sitting here? I could do something.’ ”

Van Dusen created a GoFundMe site to collect donations. She has been in touch with the Longs and their attorney, Denis Culley at Legal Services for the Elderly in Augusta, to make sure donations get handled properly.

“So many people seemed really willing to help. I thought I should strike while people’s interest was high. I wanted to make it as simple for people as possible to help,” Van Dusen said.

The site – www.gofundme.com/58dgl4 – is one of two GoFundMe sites that are collecting funds for the Longs. The other site – www.gofundme.com/57hswo– was created by a reader, Stefa Normantas of Saco, who doesn’t know the Longs but felt compelled to help them because her family suffered similar financial exploitation. Normantas also is coordinating help with the Longs’ attorney.

“I could not imagine my mother in her 80s having this kind of financial worry,” Van Dusen said.

Another neighbor just knocked on the door this week and handed Pauline Long $50 in cash.

Meanwhile, Laurel Roberts, who used to live in Maine but now lives in Scotland, has launched “The Christmas Elf Project” to raise awareness of the Longs’ problem and help raise funds for them. The Facebook page – www.facebook.com/christmas.elf.project – directs people to send money to a Camden National Bank account called “The Pauline Long Benefit Account.”

“Each year, as I can afford it, I try to find a person or family who are down on their luck around the holidays whom I can help. It isn’t the amount that matters, but how I can do something to make their days brighter,” Roberts said. “This year, I decided the Longs needed much more help than I could accomplish on my own.”

So she opened up the project to the public on Facebook.

“Everyone is struggling financially, so we may not have large amounts to contribute, but joined together, we can make miracles happen,” Roberts said.

Pauline Long could not be reached on Friday, but she has talked about feeling overwhelmed and touched by the outpouring of support and kindness since the story appeared in the Telegram last Sunday. She emphasized that she and her husband did not tell their story to get charity, but to help prevent other families from suffering financial exploitation.

Cedric Long, 81, and Pauline Long, 82, were financially abused by their son and daughter-in-law, Gary and Deborah Long of North Attleboro, Mass., according to a civil complaint filed in Knox County Superior Court.

The Longs’ problem is common. The Maine Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 33,000 Mainers are bilked by family members every year. Nationally, about 72 percent of financial exploitation cases involve family members, and the loss among elders nationwide has been estimated at nearly $3 billion a year.

In 2007, Cedric Long thought he was giving his daughter-in-law and son a six-month loan. Instead, he was swindled and signed papers that stripped the value of the Longs’ modest two-story home in Camden. Gary and Deborah Long got $164,000 that put his parents’ home on the line.

Facing foreclosure, the older Longs negotiated a loan modification with Wells Fargo Bank and now are paying $926 a month to stay in the home they had paid off decades ago. They have no savings left and live on Social Security.

Legally, the transfer of the home’s equity to the younger Longs falls within the parameters of Maine’s Improvident Transfer of Title Act. The act creates a presumption of “undue influence” in any transfer of real estate, for less than full consideration, by an elderly person to an individual with whom that person has a confidential or fiduciary relationship, including a family relationship.

The stripping of equity from the home also constituted abuse of a confidential relationship, unjust enrichment and intentional infliction of emotional distress, among other charges, according to the lawsuit.

Deborah and Gary Long failed to respond to the lawsuit, so a default judgment was issued, making them liable for the $164,000 loan.

Deborah Long did not return calls seeking comment Friday. Gary Long could not be immediately reached for comment.

Jessica Hall can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:

jhall@pressherald.com

Twitter: @JessicaHallPPH