Elderly financial abuse? Midstate experts say sadly it’s no surprise

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — It might sound shocking.

The person accused of stealing nearly all of Dorothy Weit’s money, while she was dying of Alzheimer’s disease, and cashing in a half-million-dollar insurance policy meant for all her heirs — was her own son.

But more shocking of all, perhaps? That the alleged perpetrator in 65% of cases is indeed a family member, Pennsylvania Secretary of Aging Robert Torres said Tuesday morning.

Torres spoke at a virtual media roundtable where Weit’s granddaughter, Amanda Cassel, said she and other family members had their suspicions about her uncle but were afraid to confront him until after all the damage was done.

“If we knew then what we know now, we would have had tougher conversations and not brushed aside those feelings we were starting to get and the red flags,” Cassel said.

Jennifer Weitkamp of York County’s Area Agency on Aging said the state figures reconcile with what she has seen locally.

“In a majority of cases, it’s a trusted person who has taken advantage. sometimes it’s caregivers. sometimes it’s family members. Often it’s somebody who has been given power of attorney for the older adult,” said Weitkamp, the agency’s director of older adult protective services.

Sure enough, Cassel said, her uncle had power of attorney for her grandmother, so other relatives couldn’t just — for example — call a bank to check an account balance.

Cassel supports ideas developed by a state task force to prevent financial crimes, including automated measures for financial institutions to flag suspicious transactions.

Lisa Barshinger of York County-based First Capital Federal Credit Union says the institution already does what it can to protect members, including in low-tech ways, such as when an elderly woman went into a branch weeks ago asking to withdraw $5,000 in cash.

Barshinger said a teller “asked all of the right questions: ‘What are you doing with these funds?’ And she noticed the member had withdrawn a $5,000 check the day before.”

Sure enough, the woman said someone — a stranger in this case — told her she owed thousands of dollars in medical bills, which she could pay in suspicious ways, including by purchasing thousands of dollars in Lowe’s gift cards and reading the card numbers to someone over the phone.

Barshinger said the credit union was able to prevent the woman from falling victim to further fraud.

You can read the full task force report here, and you can learn more about the Department of Aging’s programs here.

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