Protecting Our Elders: A Case of Misplaced Trust

Eric Hovatter
By Eric Hovatter December 15, 2008 09:25

Eric Hovatter, Deputy DA

The downturn in the economy has everyone worried, and as an elder abuse prosecutor I believe financial elder abuse will only increase as crooks become more desperate.

In my last column I discussed an elder abuse case I prosecuted, and the lessons that could be learned from it on how to protect yourself from becoming a victim – or how to spot such abuse happening to someone you know. Let’s look at another case and see what insights can be gained. Naturally, the names have been changed to protect privacy.

“Mrs. Olgelvy” was 75 and lived alone in a very small house in Tuolumne County. She received a meager stipend from Social Security and had little in the way of valuable possessions. Her only real asset: $50,000 from an auto accident settlement she received years earlier. Partly because of her upbringing, Mrs. Olgelvy didn’t keep her money in the bank, choosing instead to keep it in a large manila envelope inside a locked box, along with a smaller envelope with emergency expense money. She hid the box under a table in her small parlor.

Mrs. Olgelvy had no family, few friends and fewer visitors. She had neighbors, but she was not close to them, or they to her. One face she saw regularly was that of the man who delivered her oxygen canisters. One delivery day, Mrs. Olgelvy mentioned that she would like someone to drive her to her appointments. The man mentioned that his daughter, Yolanda, needed work, and soon Mrs. Olgelvy had another friendly face in her life!

Mrs. Olgelvy appreciated Yolanda’s enthusiasm and eagerness to drive Mrs. Olgelvy’s older car on various errands. Soon Mrs. Olgelvy began to trust and even depend upon Yolanda. But then, problems developed. Yolanda would drop Mrs. Olgelvy off at an appointment and return in Mrs. Olgelvy’s car long after she was supposed to be there. Each time Yolanda’s excuse was thin, but Mrs. Olgelvy didn’t take action: She needed the help, liked the companionship and didn’t want to risk going back to her solitary life.

One day Mrs. Olgelvy pulled out her cash box and noticed money missing from her petty cash envelope. She quickly checked the bigger envelope where the main amount from the settlement was kept and was relieved to see it was all there! She was confused. On one hand she wondered if she had spent some of the petty cash money and just forgotten. On the other hand, she suspected Yolanda but refused to confront her out of fear of losing her company and service. So she kept quiet.

Not long after, Yolanda again returned very late to pick up Mrs. Olgelvy from another appointment. This time Yolanda was very evasive about her whereabouts. When Mrs.  Olgelvy returned home, and after Yolanda left, she noticed a few things rearranged in her house. She called Yolanda and confronted her. Yolanda denied everything and promptly quit. Several days later, Mrs. Olgelvy went to her lock box to get some money for a pair of eyeglasses and found out all her money was gone. She wondered how it could happen, since she always locked her house – then remembered the house keys were on the same keychain that had her car keys!

The lessons here are many:

  • don’t keep money/valuables  at home, use a bank or other safe location
  • check references if you are hiring somebody that will be in your house
  • don’t give people unfettered access to your house
  • help the solitary/lonely neighbor – the more eyes on them, the better

Postscript: Yolanda was charged with theft from an elder and eventually pleaded guilty, denying she did it but saying she was taking a deal to avoid worse punishment. The money was never recovered.

Eric Hovatter is a deputy district attorney with the Tuolumne County District Attorney’s Office.

© 2008, Friends and Neighbors Magazine

Eric Hovatter
By Eric Hovatter December 15, 2008 09:25
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