Elder Financial Abuse: ‘The Crime Of The 21st Century’ Case Study

Older Americans lose $2.9 billion a year to fraud, according to a study conducted last year by the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the Center for Gerontology at Virginia Tech. Most victims are between 80 and 89, and most are women.

“Elder financial abuse is becoming the crime of the 21st century,” Denise Voigt Crawford, past president of the North American Securities Administrators Association, said when the report was released. A slowing down of brain function comes with normal aging.

The elderly are susceptible to errors in judgment, particularly in situations where a snap decision is required — such as during a telemarketing call. “Experience teaches us that those with mild dementia tend to be the most vulnerable,” wrote Kirkman and Templeton, respectively an assistant attorney general in North Carolina and a gerontologist.

For Charles & Miriam Parker, both 81, and their grown children this became a nightmare. The retired educators, with a half-dozen college degrees between them, have lost tens of thousands of dollars to scammers.

Through hard work and thrift, the Parkers sent all four children to college and paid off their home. They bought a piece of land in the North Carolina mountains and put a camping trailer on it, eventually replacing it with a house. Between their savings and Charles’ pension, they were looking at a comfortable retirement.

Then a conman entered their lives.

No one can say exactly how the trouble began. They might have made a small donation to some charity or responded to a sweepstakes letter they got in the mail. Somehow, they ended up on what people in the industry call the “sucker list.”

And once they were marked, the scammers proceeded to “reload” them. You’ve won this multimillion-dollar lottery, they’d say. All you need to do is send us the money to cover the taxes, and we’ll send you your prize. So on Dec. 8, 2004, Miriam Parker — then 80 — drove herself to the Wal-Mart down the road to send a MoneyGram to Montreal.

There followed a series of calls from Howard Clark — a man with a warm voice who called her “dear” and “sweetheart” — who had learned enough personal information about Miriam to convince her that he was the family’s ticket to riches. More wires followed, many more. The Parkers had quickly become what authorities refer to as “super victims.”

Though trusting, Miriam asked Howard repeatedly when they would receive their winnings. One day, he called saying he was on his way to deliver the prize— only to call back to say he’d been detained at the border, and that he needed her to send $200 so he could defray things. She sent him the money.

By May 2005, the Parkers had blown through their savings. They had tapped into their home equity line and had maxed out several credit cards. Willing as they still were, the Parkers were running out of things to give.

And then things got worse.

Through most of their marriage, Charles had taken care of the s finances. But in 1989, , he suffered a heart attack followed by colon cancer. As her husband’s health declined, Miriam took over. Faced with mounting debt — and clinging to the assurances of a coming big payday— she was determined to right their financial ship.

Unwittingly she became a “money mule.” At some point Howard told her that she’d been “hired” by the Canadian sweepstakes company. First, a package from Bloomingdale, N.J., containing $8,275 in cash arrived at the Parkers’ home, followed by a FedEx packet with $10,000, then an envelope stuffed with $25,000.

In just over a week, Miriam received and repackaged $60,000 in cash for delivery to Mr. Stewart of Papineau Street, Montreal.
Having the money hopscotch from one victim to another complicates things for would-be investigators.

Sometimes, there would be two stacks of bills, one much thicker than the other, tucked into magazines. The smaller pile was Miriam’s “commission.” If someone sent her a check, she was to convert it to cash and send that along, Howard said — and she wasn’t to tell her children about their dealings.

Her adult children started to notice changes in her behavior that they found alarming. When the kids finally persuaded their mother to get a credit report, they found that their thrifty parents were nearly $200,000 in debt.

Yet Miriam insisted that her payday was coming, so her children gave her a deadline. The money, of course, did not come. It was time to get authorities involved.

In the end, Miriam managed to keep her home, but lost most of her independence. Each month, Donna, one of her adult children who now oversees her finances, sends her a debit card with $500 on it, to pay for food, prescriptions and gas, and screens the mail and pays all the other bills.

To read the full account of what happened to the Parkers click here: Daily Herald

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