CBS Chicago reports that Bridget Pollard, a 76 year old Rogers Park woman suffering from bipolar disorder and dementia was convinced to send a check for $340,000 to Grace Cathedral, a mega church run by televangelist Reverend Ernest Angley in Akron, Ohio. The church preached that those who gave generously would guarantee their entry to heaven.
Mrs. Pollard’s husband died in 2015 and with no children to look after her, she lived alone and was able to easily remove $340,000 from her late husband’s pension. Mrs. Pollard is reported to have repeatedly refused care by others, but after her insistent niece paid her a visit, she discovered her aunt living without heat, water, or electricity, and amongst old garbage and 44 stray cats. Her niece also discovered her aunt’s emptied bank account and instantly realized she had been taken advantage of by the mega church. After reporting the incident, Mrs. Pollard is now under The Cook County Public Guardian, who has taken the lead on pursing a lawsuit against the church in order to recover all of the $340,000 she was conned into donating.
Although Mrs. Pollard had only been to Grace Cathedral several times, she kept in touch with Corliss Whitney, a singer from the church who became her power of attorney and also attempted to become her legal guardian. According to the Cook County Public Guardian, given the lack of contact between the two, Ms. Whitney took advantage of Bridget Pollard as part of a scheme to take money from the elderly. It is believed that Ms. Whitney had never attempted to look after Mrs. Pollard’s health or well-being, or remove her from the dire situation inside her home.
Mrs. Pollard is now in a nursing home in North Chicago and a lawsuit against both Grace Cathedral and Corliss Whitney is pending.
Elderly a Common Target of Financial Schemes
Financial exploitation against the elderly is hardly a new scheme. Everyone from non-family caregivers, to children, to strangers have all perpetrated schemes designed to take money or other valuables from the unsuspecting and vulnerable elderly. The U.S. Justice Department reports that 1 in 20 elderly people has been the target of financial theft by a family member in the past year. While there are disputes about the actual dollar amount that has been taken from the elderly in these schemes, the estimate is anywhere between $3-$36.5 billion. Those experts who believe the higher dollar value is more accurate believe so due to the lack of reporting of these crimes to the public.
With caregiving family members the most common thieves, it presents an even deeper dilemma. Sometimes the victim believes the thief deserves the money or goods, in part because of their ‘willingness’ to care for them. Reporting or addressing the theft could jeopardize their care and further isolate them. There is never a valid reason to take money or personal belongings from an elderly person without their knowledge and without the intent for it to be used for their care.
According to AARP, the warning signs of financial fraud include:
- Forgetting taking money out of an account or misplacing sums of money
- Large bills for house care, lawn care, or other services that you’re not sure your loved one actually needed
- Lifestyle changes to those who have access to your elderly loved one. According to AARP, perpetrators tend to be male, have past or current substance abuse or mental health problems, trouble keeping a job, and have had trouble with the law.
If you suspect financial abuse has happened or is happening to your loved one, please contact the elder law attorneys at Levin & Perconti to discuss your options. For nearly 3 decades we have worked to defend the rights of those who cannot fight for themselves. We are one of the first law firms in the country to look after the elderly, especially those who have been abused or neglected by caregivers, nursing homes, and assisted living facilities. Please, contact us now for a free consultation to find out how we can help you.