LANSING – During National Crime Victim Rights Week, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette issued consumer advice to seniors and family members of vulnerable adults on how to avoid falling victim to financial crimes, which are on the rise against the elderly.
“Criminals are very creative, and Michigan seniors make attractive targets for fraud and theft,” said Schuette. “All too often, my office prosecutes scam artists who targeted a retiree’s nest egg and abused their trust.
“It’s important to know that you can protect yourself from fraud and crime before it happens. Educate yourself on common scams and be skeptical toward strangers. Guard your personal financial information like account numbers and PINs very closely.”
Check out the AARP Fraud Watch Network: https://www.facebook.com/fraudwatchnetwork?ref=stream
Financial exploitation of senior citizens is one of the fastest growing crimes in America. It is estimated that as many as five million seniors are victimized annually. The problem is compounded by the fact that very few instances of victimization are typically reported and a majority of perpetrators of financial abuse are family members or caregivers.
Recent Fraud Case Against a 71 Year-Old Nursing Home Resident
Schuette’s Health Care Fraud Division recently filed felony charges against a Michigan nursing home employee accused of stealing a resident’s credit card information and making fraudulent charges. According to the FBI, seniors are more likely to have excellent credit, which makes them an attractive target for identity thieves and criminals using stolen credit card numbers for unauthorized purchases.
Kisha Stevens, 36, of Warren worked for Autumn Woods Residential Health Care in Warren, a Medicaid provider for the State of Michigan. Stevens was assigned to care for a 71-year-old resident admitted to Autumn Woods for rehabilitation.
On May 10, 2013, the resident’s credit union received a suspicious call from someone other than the resident who divulged the resident’s personal data and requested the personal identification number (PIN) for the resident’s debit card. This alerted the credit union’s fraud department. Within days, an employee of the credit union noticed suspicious activity on the resident’s account. The resident denied using the card and an investigation revealed that Stevens allegedly made unauthorized purchases with the resident’s debit card through three separate transactions totaling $1,334.66. Stevens has since been terminated from Autumn Woods Residential Health Care.
Schuette issued the following charges against Kisha Stevens:
- Three counts of Financial Transaction Device—Stealing/Retaining without Consent, each a four-year felony.
Stevens was arrested on March 24, 2014 and was arraigned in 39-A District Court, Macomb County. Her case is now pending in Macomb County Circuit Court.
A criminal charge is merely an accusation and the defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty.
Protecting Michigan Seniors All Year Long
Attorney General Schuette maintains a partnership with the U.S. Social Security Administration, the U.S. Department of Treasury, AARP, the Michigan Association of Homes and Services for the Aging, and the Health Care Association of Michigan, in support of Project $CAMS (Stop Crimes Against Michigan Seniors), a statewide criminal enforcement initiative to protect residents of nursing homes from financial exploitation.
Project $CAMS covers all of Michigan’s approximately 420 nursing homes, a population of more than 40,000 residents. Prior to the creation of Project $CAMS, only 44 cases of financial abuse against nursing home residents had been filed since 2003. Since the project began in 2008, over 76 additional cases have been filed resulting in 69 convictions, with four cases still pending. In almost every case the perpetrator was a relative.
Schuette’s Tips to Avoid Financial Exploitation
The Attorney General’s Senior Brigade consumer education program provides Michigan’s seniors a helping hand in dealing with dozens of critical needs and threats to their wallets and well-being. Schuette offers the following ten tips to protect you from falling victim to financial exploitation:
- Put all financial instructions in writing. This protects you and reduces the likelihood of misunderstandings. Keep records of all transactions.
- Understand any lifelong care agreements you are entering into. Document the agreement and specify the compensation, if there is any, to be paid to the caregiver.
- Ask a professional to review your financial agreements. Your attorney, accountant, or a bank employee can detect changes in your financial activity that may signal a problem.
- Be cautious of joint accounts. Both parties are equal owners of the account and both have equal access to the money.
- Before you assign a power of attorney, be sure you understand the authority you are giving to your agent. Know the person to whom you are giving this authority. Write in the agreement whether the agent will be paid or not, and if so, how much.
- Review your financial statements carefully. Ask a bank employee, a trusted family member, or a social worker or other professional for help when you are unsure about financial documents.
- Stay connected to your community. Social isolation increases your risk of becoming a victim of abuse. Find out about community programs or social activities in your neighborhood.
- Don’t share account numbers or your ATM personal identification number (PIN) with a stranger.
- Check your financial statements promptly and carefully for unauthorized withdrawals.
- Never sign blank checks.
Senior Brigade seminars offer seniors and their and caregivers answers to questions about residential care choices, home repair, identity theft, investment decisions and online safety, as well as solicitations and the many schemes and tricks that prey upon vulnerable adults. Consumer rights and retailer obligations under the Legislature’s repeal of the item-pricing law also are discussed in each seminar.
Since taking office in January 2011, A.G. Schuette’s Senior Brigade has presented nearly 1,400 free seminars to 15,646 seniors throughout the state. Among the most popular have been the 301 seminars on phone and mail scams (7,090 attendees) and 141 seminars on identity theft (4,159 attendees).
In addition to the free seminars, the Senior Brigade provides a full menu of information on the website http://www.seniorbrigade.com/. Included are calendars with community and statewide recreational activities for seniors and contact numbers for state and federal programs to benefit and further inform Michigan’s elderly. The website and the toll-free phone number 877-765-8388 are available for individuals to schedule free Senior Brigade seminars, presented at senior centers and other venues or through community groups around Michigan.
The Consumer Protection Division also provides a monthly email newsletter on consumer protection issues impacting seniors. Subscribe here: http://bit.ly/1emW1mf.
Additional resources for victims of crime in Michigan can be found at: http://1.usa.gov/QWT7Q6
Read more about National Crime Victim Rights Week, April 6-12, 2014 from the U.S. Department of Justice: http://1.usa.gov/1qdH0sb