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First, the nursing home. Next: its residents. Almost…

The cautionary tale of Ludie Mae Hicks reminds us of how vigilant we must be in protecting our elderly loved ones.

A Washington County (Mississippi) Circuit Court judge just sentenced Hicks to five years in prison. The charge: forgery.

Not just any forgery.

According to the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office, Hicks, 43, stole the business account number of a Greenville, Mississippi nursing home and went to town. She made fake checks using the nursing home’s legitimate account number, then wrote them at the Greenville Walmart to make more than $1,000 in personal purchases.

“Stealing from a care center is tantamount to stealing from a patient,” said Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood in a news release. “Hopefully, it will deter others from taking advantage of or stealing from the care of our elders.”

It won’t.

If someone like Ludie Mae can rip off the entire nursing home, you can be sure its patients were in her sights, too.

The National Council on Aging said elderly financial abuse costs senior Americans $36.5 billion a year. Elder abuse — financial, physical and mental – is also notoriously underreported. Only one in 23 cases per year is ever reported to adult protective services authorities, according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Elder Justice Initiative (EJI).

Those statistics are why the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and I are equipping you to spot elder financial abuse. Look for sudden changes in your elderly loved one’s finances, including:

  • Suspicious changes in wills or powers of attorney – Out of the blue, your grandfather wills all of his belongings to his new nurse.
  • Financial activity the person couldn’t have done herself – You discover repeated ATM withdrawals from your bedridden mother’s bank account.
  • Bills not being paid – When visiting a neighbor, you see mail piling up on his desk. Maybe his caregiver is using his money for something other than paying bills.
  • Significant withdrawals or unusual purchases – You notice charges for fancy electronics on your thrifty aunt’s credit card bill.

Hicks not only will spend five years in the pen, but she also will pay $1,425 in fines. That’s out of her account, not the nursing home’s.

It’s up to us to make sure when people like her get out of prison, their checks aren’t written off the backs of our parents and grandparents.

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