"The doctor just said, 'It's okay, it's okay. It's not cancer, we didn't find anything bad,' and I said 'you have no idea what I have just been through.'" It turned out her it wasn't the physical health of her 82-year-old mother Marlene Sibert's that was in trouble.
Confused at first, Karla Sibert played along, asking how many pills were ordered and how much they cost.
Skeptical about what she was being told, the younger Sibert, who has power of attorney over her parents' finances, whipped out her mother's credit cards and began calling the card companies to check recent activity. Altogether on three cards, she found $44,000 worth of charges from Leading Health Source for boxes and boxes of unopened pills and drops. The products claimed to address a variety of health issues such as dry eyes or memory loss.
Once her mother was out of surgery, Karla Sibert asked her what happened.
"She said there was just about $500 dollars that she OK'd on a credit card," she said. As a result, her mother "didn't remember doing it and doesn't remember it was of that magnitude."
Unfortunately Marlene Sibert's story is not unique. Cases of older Americans being taken advantage of by telemarketers, investment professionals or even members of their own family are a common and growing problem that occurs mostly under the radar, advocates say. One recent study found seniors lose an average of $36.4 billion annually from financial abuse.
"I think cases like this kill people," said Liz Loewy, former head of the Elder Abuse Unit in the Manhattan district attorney's office. She is now general counsel for EverSafe, a company which offers account monitoring services for the elderly.
Financial Fraud is Hammering Retirees to the Tune of $36 Billion a Year
READ the study: The True Link Report on Elder Abuse 2015