Elderly Targeted For Money, Regulators Warn

Posted at 10:26 PM, May 03, 2016

When you think of elder abuse, you may think of physical abuse.

But stealing money from a senior citizen is also a form of elder abuse.

And it can almost as traumatic for the victims. This is a very vulnerable population, and sadly there is no shortage of folks willing to take advantage of them.

Georgia Evans had Alzheimer's and after her husband, Richard, was diagnosed with a brain tumor, she depended on others to care for her.

But Cara Williamson, one of Evans' caregivers at the nursing home where she lived, is accused of betraying that trust.

Metro Police say Williamson stole the couple's checkbook, Evans' social security card and ID. Detectives say Williamson and her two sisters, Amy Gonzalez and April Williamson, tried to cash 15 checks, totaling more than $10,000. As police put it, the sisters "preyed on this sick, elderly couple, as one died."

Jim Shulman, executive director of the Tennessee Commission on Aging, told NewsChannel 5 Investigates, "Unfortunately, this happens a lot."

And Shulman added that elder abuse these days more often than not involves money.

"We hear stories of grandkids who take their grandmother for thousands and thousands, hundreds of thousands of dollars and leave them in a situation where all of a sudden they have nothing," he explained.

And then there are people who take advantage of seniors' trusting nature in business dealings, like contractors or roofers, or in Donna Siewert's case, her financial advisor who's accused of swindling money from half a dozen of his elderly clients. 

"I am from a different generation. A handshake is good. People, their word is good," Siewert shared.

The 77-year-old grandmother said she's lost everything from her insurance to her retirement savings, and she fears she will soon lose her home.

"At the time, I thought he was doing the right thing and knowing what he's talking about," she explained.

That financial advisor, as we previously reported, is now facing federal fraud charges.

Meanwhile, Cara Williamson, the nursing home employee who was supposed to be caring for Georgia Evans, was charged with forgery, theft, and financial exploitation of the elderly.

But the Commission on Aging's Jim Shulman says seniors are generally reluctant or embarrassed to tell anyone they've been scammed so the financial abuse goes unreported.

"So the people who are doing this, get away with it?" NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked him.

"That's right," he replied.

That's why, he explained, there are no true hard numbers of how often this really happens.

But the state's Abuse Registry is at least an indicator. The registry has the names of people who have have been found guilty of abusing, in most cases, someone over 60. And in the last two years alone, more than 230 names have been added to this list.

State lawmakers were so concerned, they created a special Elder Abuse Task Force to come up with ways to better protect Tennessee's aging population.

One of the panel's recommendations was to get financial institutions more involved.

"We want the banks to have the ability to stop or at least have some sort of way to stop a transaction if they have, if they feel like something is wrong," Shulman stated.

That's what the bank did in the case involving the nursing home worker and her two sisters.

Police say when they tried to cash one of Georgia Evans' checks, an alert and suspicious bank employee insisted that Evans come in with them. The sisters returned later with one of them dressed as an old woman, wearing a wig and pajamas.

That's when the bank called police.

"Keep an eye on folks," Shulman urged.

He added that if something seems not right, ask questions and check it out.

It's better than another victim of elder abuse having to live with that regret.

"I should never have listened to him," lamented Donna Siewert, the senior who lost her life savings.

And there are plenty of scams out there as well that seniors often seem to fall for. The National Council on Aging has some great information on the different types and how to avoid them. 

22 Senior Scams You Must Know and Avoid

Top 10 Financial Scams Targeting Seniors

Meanwhile, the state's Elder Abuse Task Force gave its final report to the legislature earlier this year.

Over the summer, they're going  to be working on specific proposals and solutions, including the idea of getting banks more involved, getting all of the state agencies that deal with seniors to work together, and whether lawmakers need to beef up the penalties for anyone caught committing elder abuse.