YAKIMA, Wash. — A 90-year-old Sunnyside woman who had almost $20,000 stolen from her checking account is a victim of one of the more common forms of elder abuse, according to one expert.
“Financial exploitation is a significant issue,” said Lori Brown, director of Southeast Washington Aging and Long Term Care, an area agency on aging. “It is the primary issue relating to adult protective services.”
Brown and a Yakima County sheriff’s detective recommend that people find a trustworthy person — or more than one — to handle the finances of elderly relatives who may not be able to do it themselves.
Christina Contreras, 39, of Sunnyside was recently arraigned in Yakima County Superior Court on a single count of first-degree theft related to 57 unauthorized withdrawals from the woman’s checking account. Contreras worked as an in-home caregiver for the woman since August 2012, according to an affidavit filed by Sunnyside police.
Brown said in some cases it is a family member who is taking money from the elderly victim. She said the person may have relied on the grandparent or parent for money in the past, and dependency has turned into exploitation.
Sheriff’s Detective Sgt. Mike Russell said his office has handled many similar cases. Part of the challenge, Russell said, is that an elderly person with memory issues may not remember if he or she authorized a family member or friend to spend money in a particular way.
Advocates for the elderly will be pushing the Legislature for funding to enhance aging services to address issues such as financial exploitation, Brown said.
She said people should consider alternatives to guardianship, which requires going to court, to help an elderly relative manage his or her affairs. A durable power of attorney that would allow a trusted family member or friend to handle financial matters is one alternative.
Russell said a simple way to reduce the risk of financial exploitation is to have more than one person working together on the finances, creating greater accountability.
The Sunnyside woman discovered the theft in May, when she asked a neighbor for help with a bank statement, according to the affidavit. The statement showed withdrawals made through an ATM, which the woman said she never used and did not know what an ATM was, the affidavit said.
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Officials: Stealing money from elderly a common abuse