Older parents often targeted for thefts

Monday October 22nd 2012
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BEDFORD – No job. No money.

What about Mom and Dad’s bank account?

It’s an increasingly common – and illegal – cash supply for those with elderly parents, as evidenced by the recent theft charges against former Bedford County jail warden Donald Orr Jr. and his wife, the county’s aging-care executive said Tuesday.

“We have a couple of those cases going on as we speak,” said Alan Smith, director of the Huntingdon-Bedford-Fulton Area Agency on Aging. “It’s becoming much more common.”

While many might imagine unscrupulous telemarketers and mail scams when they think of seniors’ financial exploitation, Smith said the sluggish economy has encouraged more Pennsylvanians to turn to their relatives’ savings as a source of income.

“When I first started doing this … a lot of the problems we confronted were neglect cases. What’s flooding in the door now, though, is theft,” state Institute of Protective Services Director Ronald Costen said.

The Orrs, arrested last week for allegedly siphoning more than $10,000 from the ex-warden’s parents’ account – a sum Smith said could rise above $50,000 after investigation – allegedly used Donald Orr Jr.’s power of attorney to access the stolen money.

Both waived preliminary hearings Tuesday, with a formal arraignment date not yet scheduled.

Power of attorney, the legal authority to act on another’s behalf, is the most common tool thieves use to exploit elderly relatives, Blair Senior Services Long Term Living Program Manager Missy Weakland said. The Blair agency has similar cases under investigation now, she said.

“We’ve probably had a dozen cases where they get power of attorney and they withdraw half [the relative's] bank account,” Smith said.

He cited the February convictions of Craig and Missi Carnell, both of Fulton County, who took out a second mortgage on Craig Carnell’s mother’s house to buy land, a car and a boat. The couple was jailed, leaving Carnell’s elderly mother deep in debt and with little money to her name.

The victims in power-of-attorney theft cases almost never realize they’re being exploited, Costen said – concerned relatives, neighbors or bank employees call the authorities nearly every time.

Both Costen and Smith blamed the growing problem on a perceived culture of entitlement, in which younger generations see their elders’ often-substantial bank savings and feel they deserve the same success.

“People find themselves out of money, out of work and aspiring to a lifestyle their work ethic doesn’t match. The older generation, they were frugal. They just saved money,” Smith said. “[Relatives] say ‘They’re getting frail, and we’re going to inherit it anyway.’”

Costen said intra-family theft has a ripple effect on the entire state: When a senior thinks he has enough money saved to pay for a nursing home stay – only to find his bank account mysteriously drained – taxpayers pick up the bill for his care.

Costen said researchers at his Temple University-based institute plan to calculate the crimes’ yearly cost to the state; elder theft reportedly drained $2.9 billion nationwide last year.

“Why should we, as taxpayers, support thieves?” he said.

Note:  This article was written by Ryan Brown for the Altoona Mirror.  Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 814-946-7457.

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