Monday, November 26, 2007

Elder Abuse: Important Warning Signs to Keep Our Seniors Safe

SAVANNAH, GA--Seniors are the fastest growing group in America and they have the most wealth. Put those two together and you have what some think are easy targets.

In Chatham County and across the nation, police are investigating cases of caregivers and family members taking advantage of elderly people, wiping out their life savings.
A 76-year-old Savannah woman has been through one of the worst years in her life. She does not want to be identified, we'll call her Marie.

She nearly lost everything. "I'd probably be out on the street for one thing and I know my bank account would be zero," said Marie.

Since last December a woman Marie trusted and hired to take care of her, took advantage of her financially. She ran up the grocery bills, guilted Marie into letting her use her credit card and conned Marie into buying her a new car.

Every time she'd ask for money, she'd remind Marie of the important care she was providing. Marie said she felt victimized. "I equaled it kind of like I was being raped."

Chatham County prosecutor Meg Heap is now fighting for justice for Marie and dozens of other elderly victims. "This is happening more and more and it's on the rise," said Heap.

In most cases the abusers are caregivers and family members.

Heap said, "One of the saddest ones I had is the niece, the caregiver, comes in and takes everything, takes the money out of the checking account, savings account, the trust fund, takes her property and this was all things this woman was going to leave her. She said you can have it all when I die, but she didn't want to wait. That's want she said, I don't want to wait any longer."

Often the elderly victims don't come forward.

"The elderly person loves this person or cares for them so they are not inclined to report it and if they do they are very reluctant to prosecute them, but their life savings is going down the tube," said Heap, adding many seniors are just too embarrassed.

She holds meetings with seniors all the time, trying to get the word out about elder abuse. She said everyone needs to be aware of the warning signs:

The elderly person becomes isolated--someone is always there, screening calls and visitors.

Belongings or property are missing.

Unpaid utility bills or rent.
Changes in bank account activity like large withdrawals or frequent money transfers between banks.
Changes in the will, adding the caregiver as a beneficiary.
Suspicious signatures on checks or other documents.

"Statistics show the exploitation increases in terms of taking more money and it can turn violent," said Heap. "That's what really scares me for these elderly people."

Heap has seen it happen time and time again. In a recent case the abuser was the woman's grandson.

"And the last time when she refused to give him money he choked her and knocked her down and made her take him to the bank to the ATM machine and she withdrew the money," said Heap. "We charged him with robbery and he's in prison now."

Marie's caregiver never got violent. She did ultimately lose about $30,000. Marie said she's glad she finally went to the police when she did.

"I learned later there was a good possibility she had done this to someone previously," said Marie. "I also thought if she had done this to me and somebody else, she's not going to change previous behavior I don't think."

For more information, visit the National Center for Elder Abuse.

Reported by: Michelle Paynter,

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