After a lifetime of hard work and dedication, many senior citizens in Southeast Texas are falling prey to financial exploitation.
According to Jefferson County Adult Protective Services, 2.8 million Texans 65 years or older were the victims of financial exploitation in 2012.
To combat the plague of unscrupulous scammers, APS gathered Tuesday, Sept. 1, on the steps of the Beaumont police station for an event titled “If it’s not your money — it’s a crime!” APS workers, and city and county officials released numerous green balloons meant to symbolize seniors’ everyday struggles to not fall prey to financial scams.
“All too often we are confronted by the fact that there are individuals in this world who prey on the elderly and those who suffer from developmental disabilities. I can think of no lower form of life on the face of the Earth than those who would do such things,” said Judge Jeff Branick, who has seen first-hand the financial scams involving seniors. “Just during the last couple of weeks I’ve had two cases, one where a gentleman who had been bilked out of almost $100,000 over the course of a year by people attempting to convince him he had won $100 million in the lottery and just needed to send a few thousand dollars at a time. And another gentleman in a guardianship case that was taken for over a million dollars.”
Branick presented APS with a Commissioners Court Proclamation thanking APS for its hard work in preventing such abuse.
Mike Kennedy was also at hand. As an APS attorney for Region 4 and 5, Kennedy said he’s seen it all when it comes to seniors being financially exploited.
“The most I’m getting here lately as an attorney for APS seems to be exploitation by family members who use a thing called ‘power of attorney,’” he said before warning of the legal strength behind the document.
Kennedy said just because a trusted family member or friend is able to secure power of attorney doesn’t mean that person can use their elderly family member’s money in any way they see fit.
“Buying a Corvette for yourself and going, ‘Oh by the way, it’s for this elderly person with a wheelchair, just to take her to the doctor.’” Kennedy said. “She can’t get in the car, so it’s kinda hard to prove that’s not some form of exploitation.”
APS spokeswoman Shari Pulliam said financial exploitation is easy to spot.
“Financial exploitation is when a caretaker, family member or anyone with an ongoing relationship, improperly or illegally, uses the money or property of a person who is elderly or has a disability for their own personal benefit,” she said.
Pulliam went on to say at least one case of financial exploitation, that of Lenora Reese-McNair, is making its way through the Jefferson County courts. Reese-McNair is currently in the Jefferson County Jail with her son, Jamaal Bush. Both are being charged with exploitation of the elderly for their part in an allegedly forged power of attorney and marriage certificate as Derek McNair of Beaumont lay on his deathbed.
“It’s a crime to prey on the elderly, and they will be prosecuted, just like in the McNair case. We’re not going to stop until everyone is prosecuted for taking advantage of the elderly. They are the most vulnerable citizens. They have spent all their lives working hard, taking care of their families,” Pulliam said. “They deserve to be respected. They don’t deserve to be taken advantage of.”
To stop scammers in their tracks, Pulliam said concerned family members or friends can call the APS hotline at (800) 252-4500 to report elderly abuse or exploitation. Concerned citizens can also visit everyonesbusiness.org.