The gripping thing about this case is not just the horrific means used to steal money. It’s the shocking failure of every person involved to ever notice that over a 6 year period, a caretaker isolated, abused and stole millions from a 74 year old, helpless stroke victim.
Li Ching Lu was convicted of financial abuse via fraud and forgery in Long Beach, this month. She got 4 years in state prison, which seems appallingly short for what she did. Over a period between 2002 and 2010, she emptied her victim’s bank accounts by writing checks and depositing them in 63 different accounts at 4 different banks.
Why didn’t anyone notice that she began to isolate her victim from her friends, family, financial advisors? Did any of them care enough to check on their friend or client? Did the cessation of contact from a person who had amassed a small fortune from investments ever alarm the investment advisors on her team enough to find out why?
Banks in CA are mandated by state law to report suspicious activity to adult protective services or law enforcement. Maybe someone could explain how this criminal “caregiver” managed to launder 4 million dollars through six different banks, using 63 different accounts. That’s at least ten accounts per bank.
If your bank were monitoring activity on all your accounts, wouldn’t you expect that someone just might have noticed the 74 year old’s tremendous and unusual withdrawals? The caregiver bought a Porsche SUV, a home, a BMW, paid full tuition at her son’s private university, supported her gambling habit and made large jewelry purchases.
This criminal may have been clever enough to get away with it for a time, but six years??
The law is there to try to protect vulnerable seniors from the $2.6 billion in losses they suffer from financial elder abuse every year. It’s a good law. But without anyone actually looking for suspicious activity, a criminal has free rein, as Li Ching Lu did in this case.
I’ve been a passionate advocate for vulnerable persons for my entire legal career. I understand how the law works. What I can’t understand is why, in this case, it didn’t work. The banks are quick to notice if you miss a payment on something. Can’t they develop some systems equally efficient to alert them to suspicious withdrawals and deposits, particularly when there is a change in the normal patterns of activity? Credit card companies do this. Why not the financial institutions where we bank, sometimes for decades?
There’s a lesson here for more than the banks, all asleep at the wheel until the ripoff was 4 million dollars. Then, they got suspicious and reported it. Gee, great. Too late. The lesson here is for every one of us with any aging or disabled person we know or love who is in need of help at home.
It’s about the caregivers. I have written much on this subject, as I have been a caregiver myself, through agencies and through being privately hired before I was an RN. I’ve taught them, supervised them, worked with them. Here are four very important takeaway messages:
1. Never, never go cheap with a caregiver. You need an agency, so don’t hire on your own to save money. Yes you’ll pay more. You will also get supervision, accountability and someone to watch the caregiver. It’s not perfect, but the layer of protection a quality agency offers would have stopped this crime in its tracks.
2. Do a background check on any caregiver going into your home or your aging parents’ home. Even if the agency does one, you do your own too, because you can spend more and get the most thorough check available. It costs about $100. You get criminal records from every state. You may not be able to find out about a gambling habit, but bankruptcy is a clue. It is so worth the money to investigate every caregiver’s background.
3. Insist on drug testing for any caregiver. Addicts, as we know, will do just about anything to support their habits. Stealing from the elderly is a cakewalk compared with other kinds of theft. Our aging parents are sitting ducks. Step it up, get involved in who is hired and in seeing that drug testing is done.
4. Beware of any caregiver who isolates a vulnerable elder. Isolation of the victim is a huge red flag for potential abuse. Li Ching Lu did this to her stroke victim, who had extended family and friends. Where were they? Are you going to accept “she’s not feeling up to getting together” as an excuse more than once? I wouldn’t. Make your way over there and if the caregiver won’t let you in, insist or call the police and report your suspicions. If they give you the brushoff, keep pestering them.
I’ll admit I’m pushier than most people, but sometimes a bit of pushy behavior can prevent disaster. Didn’t this poor victim have a single pushy friend to insist on personally seeing her and asking some questions? In this tragic case, the victim died before the criminal ever went to trial.
If it takes a village to take care of our elders, we’re all a part of that village. And if talking about this with you can help even one, single person from becoming a victim of financial abuse, it will make my day.
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