ELDER FRAUD: THE LONG CON PLAYED ON MY MOM – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My mother had a secretary/bookkeeper for the last 23 years of her life, from 1979-2002. Her name was Anne. Anne did everything Mom needed done regarding her finances. She paid Mom’s bills and balanced her checkbook, kept track of Mom’s investments, worked with the accountant on her taxes, handled all insurance matters, did her filing, etc. Anne also did anything else Mom wanted her to do. She returned endless catalogue purchases for Mom (this was before the internet), made and changed appointments for her, helped her find caterers, plumbers, exterminators, whatever. She would also run errands like going to a department store to buy Mom’s makeup. She became indispensable to Mom.

Over the years, Anne became more of a family member than an employee. In fact, Anne would tell people that she was my sister, which I found creepy. She shared everything that was going on in her life with Mom and turned to Mom for advice. Anne always told Mom that after losing her own mother, Mom was like a surrogate to her. Mom shared a lot of her life with Anne as well and they became incredibly close.

Anne in 1993 at my son’s Bar Mitzvah

Mom showed her gratitude and love for Anne by helping her out financially. She paid for Anne’s kids to go to summer camp for several years. She helped Anne make a down payment on a house. She ‘loaned’ Anne money when things were tight.

In the mid 1990’s, Mom’s accountant noticed that Mom was beginning to spend more money than she made. He told her she had to cut her expenses down. That meant selling the beautiful and beloved apartment she had shared with my dad and lived in for close to forty years. She moved into a smaller and cheaper apartment but it didn’t help enough. She was still spending too much.

My mother swore she was being as economical as possible. But Anne insisted that Mom was spending more than she realized. So the accountant asked to see Mom’s books and records. Anne convinced Mom that this was an unnecessary expense. This went on for several years until I put my foot down in 2001 and Mom agreed to give her accountant all the documents he had been requesting.

What he found was truly incredible. Anne had been using my mother’s checkbook as if it were her own. Literally. Anne learned how to forge Mom’s signature and paid a large portion of her own bills from my mother’s checkbook. Her forgeries were so good, we had to hire a handwriting expert to prove that they were actually forgeries.

Anne wrote checks on Mom’s account to pay for most of her monthly expenses. She made mortgage payments and her son’s college loan payments from Mom’s checkbook. She paid her electric bills and other household bills as well as all her credit card bills. Some of those credit card bills paid for first class tickets to Paris and a week at a top Paris hotel for Anne and her husband! Anne told her husband that this whole trip was another ‘gift’ from my mother.

Anne also forged endorsements of checks over to herself and even wrote checks for cash out to herself! It was all right there in Mom’s checkbook! In 2001 alone, Anne stole over $100,000!

Mom confronted Anne. Anne swore she had only done it that one year. And then the accountant went through the records for the prior year, 2000. He found exactly the same pattern. We contacted a lawyer. The lawyer contacted the District Attorney.

We only had records going back seven years. But we found that Anne had been writing $75,000-$100,000 worth of checks to herself for all seven years. In looking through old files, I found several more checks, forged by Anne, paying Anne’s bills. These checks were from 12 years earlier. We realized that Anne had probably been doing this for the better part of twenty years. She got bolder and bolder as the years went by and she continued to get away with it.

We sued Anne and tried to get some money back. We assumed that she had stashed at least some of it away. We hired a private investigator and he found absolutely nothing. We could never find any trace of any of Mom’s money. Anne must have spent it all. We suspect it was on online gambling.

Anne was forced to sell her house and paid us back $100,000 from the proceeds. But we estimate that the total amount taken over twenty odd years was over $1,000,000.

The District Attorney in New York decided to bring criminal charges against Anne. The D.A. said that this was one of the worst and longest running cases of elder fraud she had ever seen. She had contact with Anne in court and in interrogations. She said that Anne was a classic sociopath because she showed no remorse or guilt for anything she had done.

My Mom was dying of cancer when the charges against Anne were brought. She couldn’t go into New York City to give a deposition. So the D.A. came to our house in Connecticut with a videographer to document Mom’s testimony before she died. It was enough to convict Anne. Anne went to prison for six years followed by two years of probation.

Mom died about eight months after the initial discovery of Anne’s embezzlement. She knew Anne was going to jail. But that did little to alleviate the pain she felt from this monumental betrayal. It was very hard for Mom to wrap her head around the fact that she had been ‘taken’, ‘conned’ and ‘used’ for over twenty years, by someone she had loved and trusted implicitly.

I can’t tell you how violated Mom felt. I felt it too. It’s similar to what I felt after I was held up at gunpoint on a side street of New York City. It is also humiliating to be so badly duped and defrauded. You have lots of mixed emotions in situations like this. You kick yourself for not figuring it out sooner. You look for signs you may have missed along the way. You wonder if you should ever trust anyone again.

Anne and Mom in 2001

Mom also felt catastrophically stupid for being so careless about her own finances. She so totally trusted Anne that she NEVER LOOKED AT HER CHECKBOOK! Everything would have been discovered if Mom had just looked through her own checkbook once during those twenty years.

It’s sad that my mom spent her last months obsessing about this tragedy. It’s sad that it happened at all. The saddest thing of all is that Anne is out free now, probably doing the same thing to someone else. And there’s nothing we can do about it.

28 thoughts on “ELDER FRAUD: THE LONG CON PLAYED ON MY MOM – BY ELLIN CURLEY

  1. Oh, dear — elder fraud happens all too frequently, and it’s difficult to catch. I’m so sorry this happened to your mom and to you! Were you given any suggestions as to how to prevent it from happening again within your own family?

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    • You just have to pay attention. If my mother had bothered to look at her own checkbooks over the years, she would have seen what was going on in black and white. Something similar happened to my father-in-law. A younger man wheedled his way into my father-in-law’s life and got him to loan him money and ‘invest’ in projects with him. The lawsuit is still going on a year and a half after my father-in-law’s death. Some people are susceptible to being sweet talked into anything. I think it’s mostly narcissists, both my mom and father-in-law were. They are less likely to think someone has ulterior motives when unrelated people get so ‘attached’ to you.

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  2. This is truly awful and sadly not uncommon. I can imagine how bad your mother felt dealing with such a betrayal , in some ways that probably hurt her more than the money. It is hard to believe that people can treat those that have befriended and trusted them so badly but it happens.

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    • It turned out that Anne was a true sociopath. Ironically, her daughter had already been in jail and was following in her footsteps. My mother had even been warned before she hired Anne. The reference said that Anne and her mom were crooks. Anne explained away the bad reference, Mom believed her and the rest is history.

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    • It really did happen to the whole family. It also turned out that Anne was trying to turn my mom against me, maybe to get my inheritance. So anne poisoned the last years I had with my mother as well as robbing us blind.

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    • These people are MORE than normal. They are really NICE and charming. If they were “normal,” they would have less power. Garry used to say that the people with the biggest smiles were gangsters and pols. And, I would add, con artists — though maybe that’s a duplication with gangsters and pols.

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    • The problem with sociopaths is that you don’t know who they are. They know how to blend in with any group and seem normal. There were things about Anne that were odd and annoying, like with everyone else. Nothing that would jump out as a real pathology.

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    • The problem with sociopaths is that they know how to act ‘normally’ and behave in ways to ingratiate themselves with their ‘marks’. My mom was so loyal to Anne, you couldn’t say anything against her until the truth came out. Anne even managed to talk mom out of having her accountant check her books for several years.

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    • Many of Mom’s friends thought she was too close and too trusting with Anne. But we all believed that Anne was truly attached to my mom, maybe even too attached. That’s what we all saw as the problem. Anne would say she was Mom’s daughter, which pissed me off. She would also often make phone calls as if she were my mother instead of her secretary. We saw things that were odd, but nothing to raise major alarms. We all assumed that Mom was at least looking at her checkbook once in a while.

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    • The lesson is don’t be too trusting. Be alert to the possibilities. But sometimes you can’t get through to someone who has been taken in. In some cases, ther is nothing you can do but find evidence to prove the con.

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  3. We’ve been conned … and more than once. In different ways. It may be easier when you are older, but getting conned is nothing new at any age. It is infuriating that these people get short sentences and just keep doing it again.

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    • Anne did lose her house and went to jail for six years, plus probation afterwards. And this was considered a serious case of it’s kind. But you’re right. Maybe they should get some kind of rehab or treatment. But that doesn’t really work with sociopaths. So I don’t know what the answer is.

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      • No, it doesn’t work. The guy who took our money for the door we never got was off doing it again to someone else in less than 24 hours. They work one market until the cops finally get on their case and usually are out of town with a new name before the bail money comes due. And because fraud seems to be built into capitalism, it will never go away. All we can do is be careful and realize that no one and nothing is safe.

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  4. Something similar happened in my family. Not near the same amount of money. That person had power of attorney. We even had a doctor do a mental health assessment on her, which was done, but only he could get the results of it, he also had power over her health.

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    • The problem is that when someone, usually an older person, gets fixated on someone and protects their position, there is little the family can do. My father-in-law had a similar situation. He loaned money and ‘invested’ with a younger man who became like a ‘son’ to him. He was proud that this person confided in him and came to him for advice – and money. We couldn’t break the connection and make him see that he was being used. The estate is still untangling the mess a year and a half after his death.

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      • It was over a year to finalize the estate. He made her children sign a form that they would not talk about him first, and then he would sign it over. He still will not give us her ashes. It has been eight years.

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  5. Pingback: FRAUD – IT JUST KEEPS GETTING WORSE | SERENDIPITY

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