Seniors vulnerable to abuse, fraud by caregivers

Originally published by the Clarion-Ledger on 2/14/14.

PDF:CL Senior Fraud 02212014

Many years ago, I remember my grandmother coming to live with us for a while. It was a time I remember fondly, for Granny Etta was a great storyteller and was a fine example of living a life filled with dignity and purpose. Having the benefit of her presence in our lives was a wonderful gift. She passed on many years later, but left a legacy which will carry on in our family for generations. Our seniors are indeed special gifts, with unique wisdom and knowledge.

From time to time, I’ve had the pleasure to speak to groups about crimes against the elderly, and there are few things that get me more angry than finding out someone has abused an elderly or vulnerable person under their care. A good friend and fine man named Don Sullivan was an advocate for elder justice in Mississippi. Although he died several years ago, he made an indelible mark on me and my understanding of the need to protect the elderly. Part of Don’s legacy is increased awareness of the plight of seniors and other vulnerable adults.

Cases of vulnerable adults being abused by caretakers are rising across the nation. Just today, a Saltillo woman and her daughter were arrested and charged with exploitation of a woman with dementia who in her care, according to a release from the office of Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood.

“Dorothy Whitmon (formerly Whaley), 63, of Saltillo was arrested Thursday by investigators with the Attorney General’s Vulnerable Adults Unit with the assistance of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office,” Hood said in a news release. “Whitmon is charged with embezzlement and Exploitation of a Vulnerable Adult. She was booked into the Lee County jail and placed on $10,000 bond. If convicted, she faces up to ten years behind bars on each of the charges (total of 20).” Whitmon is accused of taking approximately $162,000 from the woman’s checking accounts and retirement savings and converting them to their own use. She is also accused of “quitclaiming” the woman’s property to herself, worth more than $200,000.

Whitmon’s daughter, April Whaley, 24, was also arrested and charged with one count of exploitation. She was booked into the Lee County jail and placed on $10,000 bond. If convicted, she faces up to 10 years behind bars. “Whaley is alleged to have used the alleged victim’s bank card to withdraw approximately $33,000 for her personal use,” the release continued.

“As with all cases, the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law,” Hood noted.

Stopping financial exploitation of the elderly and vulnerable requires diligence. Often, sadly, the perpetrators of exploitation are family members. Thus, it’s difficult to detect, much less prevent, fraud. But the National Adult Protective Services Association offers the following red flags which might indicate abuse by a caregiver. Here are few things to watch for:

Termination of vital utilities such as telephone, water, electricity / gas, or garbage
Unpaid bills and liabilities despite adequate income
Oversight of finances surrendered to others without explanation or consent
Transferring assets to new “friends” assisting with finances
Checks written to “Cash”
Does not understand his/her current finances, offers improbable explanations
Unexplained disappearance of cash, valuable objects, financial statements
Unexplained or unauthorized changes to wills or other estate documents
Giving-away money or spending promiscuously
Appearance of property liens or foreclosure notices

So, if someone you know or love is a potential victim, the problem should be reported right away to the Attorney General’s Office at http://www.agjimhood.com, or call (601) 359-4158.

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