An 81-year-old DeKalb County woman was allegedly defrauded of approximately $25,000 beginning in February 2010 and her ex-son-in-law faced a judge for the crime on Jan. 19.
Chester Wright, 57, of Tucker, is charged with identity fraud and exploitation of an elder person for allegedly defrauding Margaret Flowers, according to District Attorney Robert James.
Wright “moved in with [Flowers] at a time when she needed some assistance in overseeing her retirement and helping here manage her financial day-to-day activities,” said Angel Riley, a DeKalb County assistant district attorney during a hearing in the case.
Chester allegedly created an on-line business called the Narrow Gate Recovery Center and used Flowers’ Bank of America credit card and checking account to make transactions via PayPal to Narrow Gate, Riley alleged.
Chester is accused of making 59 transfers between February 2010 and February 2011 to Narrow Gate which, according to its website, “provides faith-based spiritual healing and discipleship for the chemically addicted and others struggling with life issues.”
When Flowers realized that the funds in her account were not increasing, she contacted the DeKalb County Police Department, Riley said.
“That’s a big hit to anyone, but if you’re 81 years old and you’re retired…something like that could cast you into poverty,” said James.
“Unfortunately, we see this all too often,” James said. “It’s often times someone that they trust, that they know. It’s a family member, it’s a caregiver, it’s a trusted neighbor. We see stranger on stranger, but we see a lot of abuse by a caregiver.”
James said seniors are targets for financial exploitation because they are often stable, having substantial savings or retirement income.
“There are so many different ways where people can …purport to be somebody else and gain access to our seniors’ hard-earned and long-saved dollars,” James said. “It is an unfortunate reality in the society we live in.”
Elder exploitation will continue to rise as the senior population increases, James said.
“Not only do we have more people aging because of the baby boomers, but people are living longer,” James said.
“Because of the increasing number of senior citizens, law enforcement and the business community are going to have to address ways to protect the finances of the elderly,” James said. “People are preying on our seniors, but if you think it’s bad right now, fast-forward 15 years and it’s only going to get worse because there’s only going to be more seniors that need care.”
In another case, Carla Thorton Ewing and Craig R. Matthies are facing charges of exploitation of an elder person, identity fraud, and financial transaction card fraud.
Impersonating 71-year-old Frances Matthies, Ewing allegedly reported the victim’s bank card as missing and ordered a replacement card, James said.
The victim reported the fraud to police and was able to identify Ewing by listening to a recording of the defendant reporting the card stolen, James said.
“These people have fixed incomes,” James said. “When they lose money it’s gone. If you’re on a fixed income and all you have is a Social Security check and savings or investment fund, if somebody messes with your nest egg, you’ve all of a sudden been cast into poverty.”
Law enforcement is only part of the solution, James said.
“When we prosecute them, yes, we get jail time, but the reality is you can’t get blood out of a turnip,” James said. “If someone steals tens of thousands of dollars from a senior citizen, we rarely get that tens of thousands of dollars back.”
In Wright’s case, his attorney, William Hankins, said his client is unemployed and is in a masters’ program for Christian counseling.
“He’s trying to turn himself around,” Hankins told the judge as he asked for probation for his client.
Wright turned down an offer by Judge Clarence Seeliger of two years in jail with an eight-year probation. Wright changed his plea to not guilty and will seek a jury trial.
James said society needs to better educate seniors to protect themselves. Seniors who are able should continue to check their finances, he said.
“Don’t just blindly trust someone because they are a family member,” James said.
James said other steps seniors can take to protect their finances include:
• Do not talk to telemarketers or give personal information to callers.
• Buy a shredder and destroy sensitive documents.
• Get a lock for home mailboxes.
• Partner with a caregiver and regularly check personal finances.
“It’s OK to have someone helping you take care of your bills, but you have to know what’s in your bank account,” James said.