Financial Elder Abuse

How did a Seattle cabbie steal a $164,000 from an elderly woman – with state investigators watching?

This post originally appeared at Coluccio-Law.com.

Last week, King County prosecutors filed charges against 56-year-old David G. Money for stealing from an elderly nursing home patient.

The two met when Mr. Money picked her up as a fare a few years ago. Since then, the woman has written $164,000 in checks to Mr. Money, and another $90,000 in suspicious checks to herself.

Anyone can report financial elder abuse to Washington DSHS

Anyone can report financial elder abuse to Washington DSHS

The Seattle PI story has more details, but the timeline raises a lot of questions.

1. Nearly 2 years ago, a Chase bank employee flagged the elderly woman’s account when Money brought her in and tried to cash out $98,000.

2. The employee held up the transaction, and reported it to Washington elder abuse investigators. They started looking into the matter in November 2012.

3. Shortly after that, a state social worker met with Mr. Money. A cursory investigation into Mr. Money would have shown a bankruptcy claim in 2009, in which he claimed to have a serious gambling problem.

4. Presumably, DSHS would have met with the victim as well: she is a childless widow reportedly suffering from dementia.

5. Mr. Money had been made the sole beneficiary of the woman’s will, and had been given power of attorney over her estate.

6. Yet, Mr. Money was just arrested.

By the time police were involved, the woman had $100 in her primary bank account.

Did elder abuse investigators let this go on for two years?

Red flags were raised. The bank employee (rightfully) flagged the victim’s account, but apparently Mr. Money continued pilfering money from her for two more years.

The right people – including elder abuse investigators and the police – were alerted.

Yet, by the time Mr. Money was stopped, he was the beneficiary of at least $164,000, and possibly another $90,000 from suspicious checks the victim wrote to herself.

What happened between November 2012 when investigators were alerted, and police stopped him?

Money is charged with first-degree theft, and is currently free on bond.

There are a lot of unanswered questions in this case that may help explain what happened, or may point out some serious gaps in Washington state’s handling of financial elder abuse.

 

This post originally appeared on the author’s law practice website, Coluccio-Law.com.  

Caretaker stole $250,000 from elderly patient

A judge sentenced the caregiver for an elderly Oregon woman to three and a half years in prison.

Ana Hagan is believed to have stolen about $250,000 from the elderly woman in her care. The police found evidence that she had lost $233,000 gambling at a casino.

Last week, she pleaded guilty to criminal mistreatment and theft charges.

Busted by the bank

Financial abuse of the elderly is a big but quiet problem: it’s the most common form of elder abuse, but often goes unreported.

In this case, the elderly woman’s bank, Central Willamette Community Credit Union, prompted a police investigation when they flagged suspicious account activity.

The intrepid credit union employees who contacted the police deserve our thanks.

Bank monitoring is one of the best tools we have to stop the financial exploitation of senior citizens. See Shame, Embarrassment and Privacy Laws Shouldn’t Allow Financial Elder Abuse.

WA Attorney General & AARP Tackle ID Theft with "Scam Jam"

We have talked about identity theft before in previous blog posts. The problem continues to grow by the minute.

In Washington State, Attorney General Bob Ferguson and AARP are joining forces to warn and educate the public about sharing information.

Almost 400 seniors attended the September 2013 Scam Jam in Burien

Almost 400 seniors attended the September 2013 Scam Jam in Burien

Last week , there was a  “Scam Jam” at the Museum of Flight in Seattle. Doug Shadel, director of AARP Washington, was among the experts who talked about the trends in identity theft and other scams. Says Shadel:

“We have, for a long time, known that there will never be enough law enforcement people or social service agencies, really, to protect everyone from this crime, which is growing… So, we’re enlisting the support of the citizens themselves, to protect each other.”

The Scam Jam last week was packed house. The one last month at the Criminal Justice Training Center in Burien was well attended with over 400 senior citizens in the audience.  Additional seminars will appear on the calendar soon in Seattle, Spokane, and Kennewick.

At the September Scam Jam, U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkin presented a section on “Skimming and Internet Fraud.”  She warned about “skimming,” which involves stealing bank card numbers and PINs from unsuspecting consumers. Theft can occur when a scammer installs scanners and small cameras on ATM machines. Ms. Durkin urged consumers to take a few simple steps to avoid getting snared including:

  1. Wiggle the card reader: This is often where scammers will install devices to read your card and capture your information.
  2. Look for suspicious holes: Scammers may install small cameras that peer through pinholes in the ATM machine.
  3. Cover the keypad: Cover the keypad when entering your PIN. Also look around and make sure no one is watching over your shoulder or standing above or around you where they can see what your PIN is.
  4. Check your accounts: Check your accounts on a regular basis to make sure no one has made charges on your account or withdrawn your funds.

At the October Scam Jam, Mr. Shadel explained that the first event was the start of a yearlong, statewide effort to create a Fraud Watch Network. People who are interested can call the AARP Fraud Fighter Call Center at 800-646-2283.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson said some elders in Washington are easy prey for scammers. Too often, they readily offer personal information. A caller may claim that the elder’s grandchild is stuck overseas. Other scams include developing a relationship with the elder online. Once trust is established, the scammer then asks the elder to transfer funds.

Mr. Ferguson advises that adult children should raise their elderly parents’ awareness about the multiplying types of online/phone scams.

“That conversation can be done in a way that is sensitive to the situation and explains these scams do take unusual courses of action by using technology. Never send a check, never send credit card information, never wire money until you’ve absolutely made sure it’s a legitimate business, or a legitimate person calling you up.”

An AARP survey found more than 80 percent of people who fell for lottery or investment fraud schemes are age 55 or older.

Shame, Embarrassment and Privacy Laws Shouldn’t Allow Financial Elder Abuse

One of the most common forms of elder abuse is financial abuse.

For example, a family member or someone who has developed trust with an elder systematically takes funds from the vulnerable adult’s accounts. Look at the epic tale of Ms. Huguette Clark, where court documents point to years of an organization’s financial exploitation of a wealthy senior.

Earlier this year, articles emerged about the questions swirling around Ms. Clark’s large gifts to Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan. An article in NY Times explains that Beth Israel “went after her [Ms. Clark] in an all-out fund-raising campaign,” within months after Ms. Clark arrived at the hospital as a patient. Records from court filings reveal that BI’s then chief executive, Dr. Newman, was involved in the coercion of gifts. Dr. Newman even watched the Smurfs with Huguette, while discussing the “joys of making a will.”

Huguette Clark, wealthy copper heiress, stayed for decades at Beth Israel and donated millions of dollars. - Image credit: AP

Huguette Clark, wealthy copper heiress, stayed for decades at Beth Israel and donated millions of dollars. – Image credit: AP

The respected non-profit hospital convinced Huguette to stay there for years, despite the fact that she did not require constant medical monitoring or care. As part of its elaborate efforts to siphon off some of Ms. Clark’s fortune, she was admitted in 1991 and remained there until she died.

By 1998, she was paying more than $1,200/day to reside at the hospital. All the while, Huguette “donated” $4 million, not including the millions of dollars that she paid to reside at Beth Israel nor the $1 million bequest to the hospital that appears in her contested will.

While most seniors are not nearly as wealthy as Ms. Clark was, financial abuse is growing as a major issue among this large segment of our population. A Metlife study estimated the loss at more than $2.9 billion in 2010. The General Accounting Office (GAO) reported recently, “As the U.S. population ages, growing numbers of older adults could be at risk of financial exploitation, so its potential impact on society is likely to increase.”

On several levels, we need to find a better way to address this serious problem. Individual family members need not feel ashamed or too embarrassed to report financial abuse of a senior. On a large scale level, eight federal regulatory agencies have issued a joint document that clarifies privacy rights and responsibilities for employees of financial institutions.

This guidance is important because so many companies have expressed concern that the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, aka the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999, gives privacy greater priority than fraud prevention. Now, a teller or credit union member may no longer feel that her hands are tied, even when they have strong evidence of fraud perpetrated against an elderly customer. As one of the first people to defend a senior against fraud, a bank/credit union employee may file a report when there are suspicions arising from a huge withdrawal or large, repeated “payments”.

 

Robocall Scam Targets Senior Citizens in WA State and Beyond

Local TV news journalist, Jesse Jones, recently ran a story about a new scam that targets the elderly. According to the Washington State Attorney General’s office, a new robocall scam offers “free” emergency alert devices to senior citizens.

Victims of the scam include Kyle Davis and his brother. They realized that they couldn’t always be available for their parents, so they signed on for this service. What they hadn’t realized that

Kyle Davis and his brothers know they can’t be there to help their parents all the time.  So they signed them up for a type of medical alert pendant in case of emergency.

The scam confuses the recipient of the robocalls, asking if the person wants to opt out.  To opt out, the victim is asked to press a specific number. But that number actually is an acceptance of an offer for a roughly $40 medical alert device. Kyle Davis’ mother, Dixie Davis, thought she was opting out per the robocall instructions, but instead found charges on her Amex bill twice for the same device that she later received in the mail.

“This is a company that’s supposed to be helping out seniors and yet they are kind of scamming seniors, it appears,” explained Kyle to Jesse James.

Apparently, this scam is widespread beyond the Northwest.  The first call is a robocall offering a free alert device that a third party marketer is calling, targeting the elderly.

As the AG’s office reminds, “free” isn’t usually truly free.

Now, if you really need a medical alert device, please get a recommendation from your physician and completely disregard any telemarketing offers.

!assisted-suicideAttorneys such as Margaret Dore in Seattle assert that Washington and Oregon laws that allow assisted suicide is a factor for increasing elder abuse. Ms. Dore explains that the Oregon and Washington assisted suicide acts have a formal application process. The acts allow an heir, who will benefit from the patient’s death, to play a large role in this process.

Once the lethal dose is issued by the pharmacy, no mechanism for oversight exists. That means that no one needs to witness the death. Without disinterested witnesses, Ms. Dore asserts, “[T]he opportunity is created for an heir, or for another person who will benefit from the patient’s death, to administer the lethal dose to the patient without his consent. One method would be by injection when the patient is sleeping. The drugs used in Oregon and Washington are water soluble and therefore injectable. If the patient woke up and struggled, who would know?”

In Washington and Oregon, the state health departments are required to collect some basic information for its annual reports. According to these reports, users of assisted-suicide are for the vast majority white and well-educated. Many have private insurance. Most are age 65 and older. People that fall into this demographic are seniors with money, which we have seen are commonly targeted and at a higher risk of financial abuse.

The forms used to collect the statistical information do not ask about abuse. Moreover, not even law enforcement is allowed to access information about a particular case. Alicia Parkman a mortality research analyst at the Center for Health Statistics, Oregon Health Authority, wrote to Ms. Dore: “We have been contacted by law enforcement and legal representatives in the past, but have not provided identifying information of any type.“

Consumer Reports warns about financial elder abuse

KOMO News reported on the growing trend of financial elder abuse with focus on Consumer Reports recent investigations.

The message to the elderly: Even those you might trust the most–your family and friends–are the ones who are in the best position to drain bank accounts and take over real estate of vulnerable senior citizens.

Sadly, these are the types of crimes most difficult to spot, as it seems from most distant observers that someone’s family or caregiver is working in the best interest of the vulnerable elder.

Financial elder abuse is on the rise per Consumer Reports’ investigation..

Nevertheless, senior citizens are the most vulnerable for scams. From forging to pleas for a loan to abuses of power of attorney.  When someone has power of attorney, they have unfettered access to your accounts. Someone who misuses those powers can decimate financial accounts, leaving them with virtually nothing.

To help prevent elder abuse:

  • Have bank and investment statements sent to a person you trust to monitor accounts.
  • Arrange for direct deposit and automatic bill pay.
  • Consult a reputable elder law attorney for advice on wills and limiting power of attorney.

Consumer Reports says there are good places to get help if you or an elderly relative is concerned about financial abuse, including the National Center on Elder Abuse, which has links to help and hotlines.

You can also get help for elders dealing with Alzheimer’s Disease or other memory loss issues, from the local Alzheimer’s Association.

West Seattle brothers allow father to rot to death

Every once in a while, I come across a story that is almost impossible for me to read because of the horrific details. This is one of those stories. which I came across in the Seattle P-I.

Sadly, the story is about a pair of local men, both in their 50’s, who lived rent-free in their father’s Alki/West Seattle home. All the while, Keith and Kenneth Shaw allowed their 86 year old father, Kyle Shaw, Jr. to waste away malnourished, dehydrated, and caked in filth.

King County prosecutors allege that the Shaw brothers refused to provide proper care to their father, so that they could inherit all of their parents savings.

Back in November 2010, another relative had called the paramedics to the Shaw house. The paramedics found Kyle Shaw in only a T-shirt and socks. The sock had grown into his feet, according to charging documents, as the elderly Shaw had been wearing the bloodied, feces-covered socks for at least a year.  At Swedish Medical Center, a doctor found  Mr. Shaw’s feet were rotting, along with suffering an array of life-threatening ailments.

A social service worker visited the Shaws, responding to a troublesome report from the Nov. 2010 hospital visit. Despite the fact that Kyle Shaw and his wife had large savings, enough to pay for Kyle’s care, the Shaw brothers balked at the idea. One of them said that doing so would force the other brother (who didn’t have a job) to “… end up homeless, living under the viaduct.”

Both men have been charged with second-degree criminal mistreatment. Neither has entered a plea yet.

County’s Worst Case of Theft: Caregiver Steals $1 Million

John Friedlund was a Washington State caregiver, who received a 10-year prison sentence earlier this month for stealing $1 million from a 107 year old woman, Frances Swan, 107. She was found living in feces and utter squalor, as her supposed caregiver had spent her funds to purchase tractors, horse trailers and over 300 guns.

John Herbert Friedlund gets 10 yr prison sentence for elder abuse/theft.

Stevens County Deputy Prosecutor Leah Radzimski described John Herbert Friedlund’s acts as “…the worst instance of theft and abuse we’ve had in the county. Six officers said the home was the worst they’d ever seen.”

Friedlund, 79, was sentenced by Stevens County Superior Court Judge Al Nielson, a day after jurors convicted him of first-degree theft.

He had resided at a ranch near Kettle Falls, roughly 210 miles northeast of Seattle. For four years, he was given the responsibility as caregiver to Ms. Swan. During those four years, he stole money from her retirement account, according to Radzimski.He spent the $1 million on 300 to 400 guns and other items such as tractors and horse trailers, Radzimski said.

Ms. Swan was bedridden in a back room of her feces strewn Kettle Falls home. Deputies discovered her in May 2011. She begged them for food.  The only food found at her place was rotten, and the garbage had stacked so high with filth that it reached the ceiling.

She now lives in a nursing home.

In early October 2012, a jury convicted Friedlund of theft with two aggravating circumstances – violation of the victim because of her vulnerability and his position of fiduciary responsibility over her.

As unbelievable as stories like these are, we are finding them more common. If you believe that someone you love is the victim of elder abuse, contact an attorney. Kevin Coluccio has represented numerous elder abuse victims and their family members, finding justice against those negligent in their care of some of our most vulnerable citizens.

Killed Over a Coin Collection: Another Tragedy Pointing to the Rise of Elder Abuse

Recently, the Seattle Times reported about a loosely organized crime ring that has been targeting senior citizens.

The latest reported casualty is Navy veteran Frances “Patrick” Fleming. He had spoken openly about his coin collection, which unfortunately caught the attention of Charles Jungbluth and Gilda Ramirez. Jungbluth and Ramirez allegedly stabbed Mr. Fleming to death in early December 2011.

According to the Times’ article, in late August of this year, Jungbluth, 51, of Lake Stevens, and Ramirez, 49, of Seattle, were charged with first-degree murder and each ordered held at the King County Jail in lieu of $2 million bail.

70 year old slayed over coin collection

Apparently, those charged for the death and theft of Mr. Fleming and their associates target vulnerable adults to commit financial crimes.

An important takeaway from this article is that there is a rise in this type of crime, where elder financial abuse is at the crux. Please remember to urge your elderly relatives to be more cautious around those they do not know.

If someone you care about may have been the victim of elder abuse or neglect, Kevin Coluccio is available for a free consultation. Kevin is a Top 10 Washington Super Lawyers, and has helped find justice for many families who have fallen prey to elder abuse.

 

 

About Kevin

Kevin Coluccio was recently named one of the Top 10 Super Lawyers in Washington State. He has long history of successful elder abuse/neglect cases and has a stellar reputation for getting results for his injury clients in serious car crashes, pedestrian accidents, trucking accidents, maritime claims, and asbestos injury cases.