HAPPIER DAYS — Glynnis Walker (far right) posed for a picture with her mother (center) and her daughter Arabella, the last time the trio was able to be together. Photo submitted by Walker.
CHICAGO — Rosalind “Joy” Walker died without her daughter or grandchildren by her side. The Alzheimer’s patient had been a victim of elder fraud, in which the woman’s attorney, Janet Colton, next-door neighbor Joanne Turner and Betty Miller, a supermarket clerk, had conspired to obtain power of attorney and guardianship of the elderly woman, estranging her from her daughter, Glynnis Walker.
After learning about fraud against the older, more vulnerable segment of the population and the legal system, through her own personal experience, Walker wrote “Stealing Joy: A True Story of Elder Abuse and Fraud” to illuminate the risk and ruin of what she said has become a national epidemic.
“These seemingly everyday people were the ones who targeted my family. During their association with my mother, they abused her – psychologically, emotionally and financially, isolated her from her family, defrauded her, changed her will, stole her identity and mine,” Walker said. “In the end, they arranged for her death.”
The Older Americans Act of 2006 calls elder abuse “exploitation,” and defines it as “the fraudulent or otherwise illegal, unauthorized or improper act or process of an individual, including a caregiver or fiduciary, who uses the resources of an older individual [generally accepted as anyone over 60] for monetary or personal benefit, profit or gain or that results in depriving an older individual of rightful access to or use of, benefits, resources, belongings or assets.”
In 2011, the last recorded statistic, victims of elder fraud lost more than $2.9 billion in the United States alone. This was an increase of 12 percent over 2008. In spite of the frequency of the crime, with one in 20 older adult’s indicating that they have been victims of financial abuse in the recent past, only one in 44 cases of elder financial abuse is ever reported.
“It’s like years ago, when child abuse was a topic no one talked about,” Walker explained. “It’s not like it wasn’t happening; it just wasn’t being talked about. Elder abuse is like that, now. When people are older, they often don’t have a family or are far away from that family. They’re vulnerable, just like little kids, and we have to fight for all of them.”
Springville Concord Elder Network Coordinator Virginia Krebs said that she has seen incidences of fraud against the elder population in the local community, although no precise statistics could be obtained, by press time.
“When someone is 70, they can’t recoup financially, the way they could when they were younger,” Krebs said. “They can’t make up what was lost at a time when they need those resources more than ever, and that can put them in a place they never thought they’d be.”
Today, 40 million people in the United States are ages 65 and older, but this number is projected to more than double to 89 million by 2050. Although those ages 85 and older represent 15 percent of the population of elder adults in the U.S., their numbers are projected to rise, over the next 40 years. By 2050, those “oldest old” will number 19 million, more than one-fifth of the total population of people ages 65 and older, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That total population is projected to rise to 70 billion people by 2030.
“They have more money per capita, than any other people in history,” Walker said. “And the younger generation has never been poorer. It’s a dangerous wealth gap.”
An elderly person becomes a victim of financial abuse every 5 seconds, according to Walker’s research. Women are more than twice as likely to become victims of elder financial abuse, partially because there is a larger percentage of women among the older population and because they tend to be more vulnerable.
Fraud involving strangers as the perpetrators made up more than half of reported cases, while fraud committed by family, friends, neighbors and trusted others, such as authority, legal or financial figures, represents 34 percent of reported cases. According to Walker, the largest single category of this group included financial professionals, attorneys and other fiduciary agents.
“Watch out for each other,” Krebs said, as the best safeguard against these types of fraud. “Know who your neighbors are, who sits next to you in church. If you notice a new best friend, people moving in and out of the house, tell someone. Speak up.”
Currently, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse, prosecution of perpetrators is rare. Only one in 25 cases is ever reported and one in 100 is successfully prosecuted. Victims of elder abuse often fear retaliation or a disruption of the dependent relationship they have developed with the offender, according to Walker.
“Police departments often don’t have the budget to fully investigate [elder fraud],” Walker noted. “I think, in a way, older people are perceived as being on their way out. Any crime that happens to them doesn’t really matter; they’re going to die anyway. When you’re old and vulnerable, you still need to be thought of as part of society.
“We [as a society] never get over elder fraud. If there is no money to pay [the elder’s] expenses, we all pay. We’re all victims; the elder is the primary victim.”
In Walker’s case, the victim had Alzheimer’s disease, and was made more vulnerable by her reduced mental capacity.
“It can happen to anyone,” Krebs added. “Even if you’ve got friends, family, if you’re surrounded by loved ones, you can still be taken advantage of, if you’re not aware of the risks.”
In the beginning, Walker said she thought she was doing everything right. She had obtained a power of attorney for her mother, after her father’s death in 2006. Walker had set up direct debits for most of her mother’s bills, and, since her mother was not used to writing checks, had advised that she keep a small amount of cash in the house, for incidentals.
At that time, Walker retained Colton to draw up a will and POA for Rosalind Walker.
“On Oct. 19, 2006, we attended a meeting at Ms. Colton’s office. My mother signed a straightforward will, passing all her property to me, or if I was deceased, to [my daughter] Arabella,” Walker explained. “She also signed a POA, appointing me to act for her. It was an Enduring Power of Attorney, which meant that even if she became mentally incapacitated, the document was still in force and I could still act for her. This, as it turned out, was significant.”
Her mother entered the hospital and was declared cognitively impaired in 2010, after which Colton, Turner and Miller began working to turn Rosalind Walker against her daughter. Since Glynnis Walker lived in Chicago, Ill. and her mother lived on Victoria Island in British Columbia, about 15 hours away, the trio worked to obtain guardianship and POA for the elderly woman, which they were ultimately successful in doing.
“My mother executed three wills in her lifetime,” Walker wrote. “One in October 2006, before she got Alzheimer’s, and two in September 2010, after she had been declared cognitively impaired – a multitude of times. The first of these wills was executed in Judy Colton’s office, following all legal requirements. The other two were written in Joanne Turner’s house, the first in Turner’s own handwriting. The first of the September wills was written on ... blue flowered kitchen notepaper. The September 15th will was typed. My mother never learned how to type.”
But the fraud didn’t stop there. Walker received a letter on Sept. 28 that her mother’s bank account had been closed, as per her instructions. “I had been POA on mum’s accounts since 2007, which was why the letter came to me,” she explained. “But, I did not, would not have closed that bank account, because I knew that that is the account where her British pension went. Once it was closed, the Pension Service had nowhere to send the money to and so they stopped sending it, as I found out many months later. Colton would not have known this little detail.” That led Walker to believe that Colton had been responsible for closing the account and eventually bankrupting the elder, by writing checks to Miller.
“By the end of January, 2011, I knew for sure what the women were up to, thanks to my phone calls. I also knew that they had to be stopped,” Walker wrote. “I wrote a long letter to the Victoria police department, detailing everything that had happened, instead of just calling. Somehow, it landed on the desk of Detective Rick Anthony, one of the two detectives who handle the overwhelming number of cases of elder fraud in Victoria.”
On March 2, 2011, Anthony swore an affidavit in favor of Walker’s guardianship of her mother. In the affidavit he noted, in part, “Based on my training and experience, some of the indicators of financial elder abuse are as follows:
– Significant withdrawals from the elder’s accounts.
– Sudden changes in the elder’s financial condition.
– Items or cash missing from the senior’s house.
– Suspicious changes in the senior’s wills, power of attorney, titles or policies.
– Addition of names to senior’s signature card.
– Unpaid bills or lack of medical care, although the senior has money to pay for them.
– Financial activity the senior could not have done, such as use of an ATM when the senior is bedridden.
– Unnecessary services, goods or subscriptions.
However, because there was a civil motion underway with respect to guardianship of Walker’s mother, the investigation had to be be suspended, pending the outcome.
“My mother died on Friday, June 17, 2011 at 10:30 in the morning. The hospital did not call to say her death was imminent,” Walker noted. “They did not call to say she had passed away. They did not call at all, because Colton and Turner had told the staff that her granddaughters and I were guilty of elder abuse. They never called to check on that fact, either.”
After surviving the theft of her mother’s assets, her health and ultimately, her life, Walker said she had to write the book to help prevent the same from happening to someone else, because she couldn’t live with herself if she didn’t.
“My mother deserved better than that,” she said. “I want this book to be a preventative measure, to get more exposure, so we can get more people to be aware. It’s not just happening to me, here. It’s bigger than that.”
But there are local resources that are even bigger than the frauds out there.
“There are success stories,” Krebs said. “There are people who can help.” SCENe has a number of resources for people to use, who may find themselves at risk or victims of fraud.
Watch next week’s Journal for Krebs’ advice for local seniors, as well as some additional types of scams that have been seen, within SCENe’s jurisdiction.