Financial abuse is taking advantage of financial resources of individuals who are unable to handle their own financial affairs, or who may be isolated, unsupported or otherwise unable to protect themselves. Often, victims are elderly and may be a resident of a nursing home, personal care facility or other type of institution. Financial abuse of patients in a personal care home or nursing home is a crime of opportunity, in which someone who has been placed in a position of trust takes advantage of a person at the most vulnerable time in his or her life.
Financial abuse statistics show this crime probably is underreported and often undetected. But occasionally, there is news of an arrest. Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood announced recently that two Ridgeland residents had been arrested and charged with exploitation of a vulnerable adult.
According to a news release from Hood’s office, investigators with the attorney general’s Vulnerable Adult Unit and Hinds County Sheriff’s Department last week arrested Renee Hope Netherland, aka Renee Lester, 42, and Henry Thomas McAlister III, 47, both of Ridgeland. A Hinds County grand jury indicted Netherland and McAlister on one count each of exploitation of vulnerable adult.
According to the indictment, Netherland and McAlister are accused of “obtaining a debit card belonging to a patient in a Jackson care facility and using the card to make withdrawals and purchases totaling $250 or more without the consent of the victim, then converting the money to their own use.”
If convicted, each defendant faces up to 10 years in prison and a $5,000 fine. “As with all cases, a charge is merely an accusation, and the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law,” the release noted.
The case will be prosecuted by Special Assistant Attorney General Bob Anderson of the attorney general’s Public Integrity Division.
Hood noted that technology helps enable financial crimes such as credit card fraud, requiring greater vigilance to deter, detect and address. “I encourage all Mississippians to educate themselves on the signs of credit card fraud so they will recognize it and know what to do if they encounter it,” he said.
According to the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, there aresome red flags that might indicate financial abuse of a vulnerable person. Here are a few:
- Withdrawals from bank accounts or transfers between accounts that the person cannot explain.
- New “best friends.”
- Legal documents, such as powers of attorney, which the person didn’t understand at the time he or she signed them.
- Missing belongings or property.
- Unusual activity in the person’s bank accounts including large, unexplained withdrawals, frequent transfers between accounts, or ATM withdrawals.
Hood added that all consumers should be on guard to protect their financial information. “Always remember to be protective of account information and to regularly monitor credit card or bank statements for unusual activity,” he advised. “Consumers should also make sure to shred account documents before throwing them away.”
In addition, if you think that you or a loved one has become a victim of credit card fraud, call the attorney general’s Consumer Protection Division at 1-800-281-4418, or visit http://www.agjimhood.com for more information and resources.