SAVANNAH, GA--Robbing, abusing and financially exploiting an elderly person. They are despicable crimes that happen all too often.
In Chatham County and across the country elder abuse is on the rise. The cases that get the most media attention are the cases of physical abuse or violent crimes.
A couple of years ago there were a group of gypsies who forced their way into the homes of elderly couples and robbed them. They targeted seniors living in Savannah and Garden City.
Thugs have knocked several elderly women to the ground and stolen their purses.
But it's the elderly people who are being abused financially, by people they know and trust, that is the bigger problem.
"I could feel myself getting angrier and angrier and more and more depressed." said a recent victim of elder abuse.
She is 76-years-old and lives in Savannah. We'll call her Marie, she does not want to be identified.
Marie said a woman she hired to take care of her ended up swindling Marie out of nearly $30,000.
Marie is no pushover, she's is a retired Army colonel who served our country as an Army nurse for 30 years. Now she lives in a home for seniors with her two cats. Marie hired a caregiver last December after she had surgery on her right leg. She couldn't walk and needed around the clock care.
"If it hadn't been for her frequent irrigation, I probably would lost part of my right leg, maybe all of it." said Marie. "So I was very grateful to her because she did give me good care."
In fact the two became close. "We became very good friends, I thought."
Marie said she now realizes the caregiver took advantage of her. It happened over the course of about nine months. It started out small. "I began to notice the grocery bills were going up quite a bit," she said. "Eventually it was about $100 every time we went to the grocery store."
Marie would buy a frozen chicken, put in the freezer, a couple days later it was gone. Some of her clothes began disappearing. When Marie would take the caregiver to dinner after a doctor's appointment, she said the caregiver would always order the most expensive thing on the menu.
Then the caregiver started using Marie's credit cards, ordering new ones in her name and checking Marie's bank account online. "I began to feel more and more isolated, like I was being restricted here." Marie said. "I wanted to go shopping or something, there was always a reason why we couldn't do that, unless she wanted to."
In June, the caregiver asked Marie to loan her money to buy a car. At first Marie refused. "There came more and more pressure to be a co-signer on her new car."
Marie finally gave in. The caregiver took her to a dealership, picked out a 2004 Mitsubishi Endeavor. She wouldn't let Marie get out of the car and handed her some paperwork to sign in the back seat.
Everything seemed legitimate. "Until around July when I started getting a lot of calls from Fifth Third Bank," she said.
It turns out Marie didn't co-sign a loan, she bought the SUV, and the bank came after her for payments. Marie said she tried to work things out with the caregiver, after all she was the reason Marie could walk again.
But the caregiver wouldn't stop asking for money. "She wanted me to help her with the down payment for a house," said Marie. "I just drew the line at that."
Marie called her sister who told her to call the police. Marie said she knew it was the right thing to do, but it was still a hard decision. "I felt terrible and I felt very guilty and I got very angry."
Looking back, Marie realizes this incident almost cost her her life-savings and it has taken a toll on her mentally and physically. She is speaking out to try to alert other seniors and maybe keep it from happening to someone else.
Today Marie is trying to move on, but this ordeal is far from over. Her caregiver bonded out of jail and the case is schedule to go to a grand jury.
Marie is so haunted by all of this, she is moving to a new home. As for that Mitsubishi Endeavor, the bank and the dealership are still hashing out who should pay for it.
Tomorrow on THE News at 6, Chatham County assistant district attorney Meg Heap talks about her role in prosecuting these elder abuse cases. She has some warning signs everyone should pay attention to.