• Taking advantage

    A part-time caregiver defrauds an elderly owner of a working farm

    Unfortunately, fraudsters often target the most vulnerable people when committing their crimes and the elderly population is no exception. Banks reported 24,454 suspected cases of fraud targeting elderly victims to the U.S. Treasury Department in 2018. A number of these fraud schemes are perpetrated by strangers who contact victims with a fictional tale of woe or impersonate family members and ask the victims for money. However, some of these fraud schemes are much more personal.

    Jim* was an elderly gentleman who owned a working farm. He suffered two strokes in 2011, leading him and his wife to hire Cindy* to do basic housekeeping duties. In 2012, the wife suffered a major stroke and Cindy’s duties were changed from housekeeping to more of a caregiver role. In early 2013, Cindy left her agency and was hired by Jim’s family as an independent contractor at a higher pay rate than the agency provided. Jim’s wife passed away in 2014.

    No one suspected a thing, as they all thought the caregiver was attentive and well-liked by the victim.

    As Cindy cared for Jim, their relationship became more familiar than purely professional. Cindy told Jim about her life and that her husband was seeing another woman. She told Jim her adulterous husband wasn’t providing for her financially anymore and she was falling on hard times. She began to spend more time at Jim’s house than she was contracted for and used Jim’s credit cards for personal expenses like groceries and utilities. Jim’s memory began to fail, and Cindy began “helping” him with his finances.

    Around a year and a half after Jim’s wife passed away, his adult children began to worry about their father’s declining health and started to prepare for the future. Two of his children had mental disabilities and were dependent on Jim’s estate, while another child ran the farm. A separate daughter applied for and was granted conservatorship of Jim’s estate and was named his guardian.

    His children discovered that Jim had not filed taxes for the previous five years. This concerned them, as Jim was a farmer with various land and financial investments. They also began digging around the financial records Cindy had helped with and found she’d been issued random bonuses and duplicate paychecks. The CFE who was brought in to work on the case explained, “Items in [Jim’s] ledgers were mislabeled, the amounts were incorrect or minimized, and paper records were missing. [Cindy] then resorted to saying the extra paychecks and other expenses charged on [Jim’s] credit cards were gifts … No one suspected a thing as they all thought the caregiver was attentive and well-liked by the victim.”

    The proceeding investigation proved difficult because of incomplete financial records and the adult children began arguing over various aspects of the estate. Eventually Cindy pleaded guilty to defrauding Jim for $130,000, although some estimates of the amount she stole were closer to $200,000. Cindy is in the process of paying restitution to the estate and still lives with her husband in a $250,000+ home he bought during the adjudication of the case.

    Lessons from the CFE: Persistence is the key — ask well thought-out questions and carefully listen to the stories told to you by all involved parties. Somewhere in the overlap is the version of events that fits most consistently with what most likely transpired. If you believe something similar is happening to your loved one(s), contact law enforcement and your local public or state departments specializing in aging and elder services.