“I met her and she said she was going to help me," said the 64-year-old Montgomery. "Then she said she needed some money, and she would come by my house and I would loan her money.”
Montgomery’s wife was in a nursing home and he believed the woman was going to help out around his house.
“At least that’s what she led him to believe,” Franklin County District Attorney Joey Rushing said.
After loaning the woman money, Montgomery was then approached about giving the woman and her family a place to live.
“They started staying on my porch, and the next thing I knew, her, her husband and their two children had moved into the house with me,” he said.
Before long, Montgomery said he was asked to go with the woman to help her get loans.
“She took me to where you write checks and they would loan you money,” Montgomery said.
He said he never got any of the money that he signed for, which according to the district attorney’s office amounts to nearly $3,000.
“She even had him put his truck up for collateral on one of the loans,” Rushing said. “She had him on the hook for all of the loans, and he got nothing out of it but the payments.”
Montgomery said the couple and their two children lived with him several months.
“Tommy, is so good-hearted and always wanting to help others that he couldn’t say 'no' to her,” Rushing said.
“I was just trying to help, and they took advantage of me,” Montgomery said.
According to reports, the Franklin County Department of Human Resourses got involved in trying to check on the two children, and a concerned citizen who knew Montgomery contacted police.
As it turned out the woman, Julie Hawk Clark, was arrested for financial exploitation. Her husband was arrested on the misdemeanor charges of illegal possession of prescription drugs.
Rushing said Clark eventually pleaded guilty to second-degree financial exploitation of the elderly and was sentenced to five years, split to time served and being placed on supervised probation for five years.
“Neither she nor her husband can have any contact with Tommy,” Rushing said.
“It’s just sad that there are people who prey on the goodness of others like this. And that’s all this was,” Rushing said.
Montgomery’s case is not an isolated incident. More and more adults, 60 and older, are becoming victims of elder abuse.
According to a report by AARP, 1 in 10 Americans age 60 and older have experienced some form of elder abuse.
Jerry Groce, regional director for the Alabama Department of Human Resources, said elder abuse comes in a variety of forms from sexual to emotional to physical violence and financial manipulation.
“You see them all, but the biggest issue we see right now is financial exploitation,” Groce said.
He said people will go to “great depths” to take advantage of others, especially the older population.
“Eldely people seem to be more trusting. They grew up in a time when people gave them their word and they kept it,” Groce said. “Unfortunately, in today’s society that just doesn’t happen like it used to.”
Locally, law enforcement and DHR officials who work with the elderly population are seeing an increase in elder abuse cases.
According to local statistics, in 2010 there were 173 cases of elder abuse reported in Colbert, Franklin and Lauderdale counties. That increased to 543 in 2016. This year, the three counties have reported 383 cases.
“There is no question elder abuse is on the rise. It’s one of the fastest growing types of abuse we see,” Lauderdale County District Attorney Chris Connolly said.
A large percentage of the abuse cases involve financial exploitation.
“It used to be we might see one (case) every year or so. Then it got to be every month or two. Now, it seems like we see one of these cases every week,” Connolly said.
Rushing said he recently had three cases of financial exploitation, the most the county has had at one time.
“Honestly, it’s almost like an epidemic,” Rushing said.
Cassie Martin, adult protective supervisor for Colbert County DHR, said in many cases, it is the caregiver or a relative who is exploiting their elderly family member.
“The victims are so trusting and they are having to trust someone to take care of them,” Martin said. “Oftentimes, the ones abusing and exploiting are the ones our adults trust and love. This often makes it hard for the older adults to admit that abuse happened.”
Groce believes the problem has increased because of our more mobile society.
“In the past, people had extended family who lived nearby and took care of them. They were always checking on them,” Groce said. “Now, as society has become so mobile, families don’t live that close, some not even in the same city or state. They’re spread out, and it leaves our older adults vulnerable to this kind of abuse or exploitation.”
Groce said statistics indicate elder abuse is one of the least reported crimes.
“According to reports, we may be getting only about 20 percent of cases actually occurring” Groce said.
“It’s scary to think there are that many more of these types cases going on that we don’t know about,” Rushing added.
Connolly said many victims are afraid to report the abuse.
“They’re scared to come forward because they need someone to take care of them,” he said. “And they’re scared for their safety, so it goes unreported.”
Martin said victims are often ashamed of what has happened to them.
“They don’t want to admit that they have been taken advantage of,” she said, “and that is exactly what’s happened. People are preying on these innocent victims. There are people who make a living taking advantage of our elderly population.”
Groce said law enforcement and DHR are working to make people more aware of the problem.
“Our older population should be revered, not exploited,” he said. “We want to do all we can to take care of them, keep them safe, and protect them from being take advantage of by these predators.”
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Elder abuse cases on the rise