LADY LAKE - In an outrageous case of forgery, fraud and theft of a senior, a 40-year-old woman has been arrested and charged with ripping off her grandfather to the tune of more than $66,000.
It's not just the amount that shocked her family. She went after $100,000 he received from the government for injuries caused by the Agent Orange herbicide in the Vietnam War. Plus, she is being accused of trying three times to claim she was the power of attorney, with legal control of the man's assets.
The scheme is just one example of the scams that law enforcement tries to prevent. Often, the victims are seniors, but not always.
"It can be anybody at all," said Sumter County Sheriff's Detective Jeffrey Cohen, who investigates financial crimes. "Any profession, any background."
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'That has to be right'
Bill Farmer, Sumter County's longtime sheriff whose territory includes The Villages, said one of his top priorities is trying to keep seniors from being ripped off.
One of his weapons is on The Sumter County Sheriff's Office app called Sumter Scam Sting. Citizens can post warnings and share complaints about scams.
Many crimes are committed over the internet. People get an email demanding payment for a service they did not purchase, for example. They are directed to go to a store to buy gift cards or get cryptocurrency to pay before they even have a chance to think about why they are getting billed for something they did not buy. Sometimes the scammer will stay on the phone with the victim, giving instructions in case a store clerk asks questions.
Some scammers go to the trouble to create fake websites and phone numbers to trick their victims.
"That has to be right," consumers think when they see numbers to call, Cohen said.
Identity theft is a huge problem. The Federal Trade Commission received 1.4 million complaints last year, 1-in-4 of the fraudulent reports, according to AARP.
Thieves do everything from stealing "snail mail" to hacking computers at banks, utilities and big tech firms. Sometimes they send legit-looking phishing emails that unleash malware.
Cohen said many people did not know they were scammed during the Covid pandemic until they received notice of attempted unemployment compensation or other benefits.
"Consumers reported more than 800,000 cases of identity theft tied to government benefits or documents to the FTC in 2020 and 2021, compared to fewer than 75,000 in the previous three years combined," AARP said in its Fraud Resource Center report.
Some scams are tied to current events, like fake charities seeking donations for Ukraine war victims.
Phone scammers can pretend to be loved ones in trouble, say that an account has been compromised, or that the victim has won a prize or is entitled to a government benefit.
'Why would I give her anything?'
Lady Lake Police arrested the woman who allegedly ripped off her grandfather when the legitimate power of attorney - the man's son - notified authorities.
People can designate durable power of attorney status to someone in case they are no longer able to make good decisions on their own. They can pay their bills, manage their investments, and take care of other matters. Usually, there is a separate document authorizing medical care. Most lawyers can set them up easily.
The victim was experiencing "diminishing mental health capacity," a police report said. He was living in an assisted living facility when he became ill and had to be hospitalized. It was then that the woman took control of his car and later acted as his driver to medical appointments.
He kept his checkbook in the car. He also told police that she had him sign some papers but was "confused about what he was signing," the arrest affidavit said.
Fraudulent checks were written or altered last fall with three people as recipients: herself, her mother and her daughter, according to the arrest report.
In one case, she signed her name above and below a check that clearly stated it was payable to the retiree.
A check written to her daughter was for $5,000. "The 5 in $5,000 is darker than the 0s," the report said. "It appears it was originally had been one thousand."
In one case a 1 was added in front of $5,000, turning it into a check for $15,000.
In another, the forger forgot to use the man's middle initial, which he used when signing checks.
When the man and his son went to police, they brought bank statements and proof of his power of attorney. The victim denied writing the checks or authorizing the bank transactions.
One check was for $8,000 to his ex-wife.
"Why would I give her anything?" he asked. For one thing, she was remarried, he said.
The man and the dad both said they wanted to prosecute the granddaughter.
She was charged with four counts of uttering a forged instrument, three counts of forgery and one count of theft of a person older than 65. She was jailed and held pending payment of $2,000 bond for each count.
The crimes are third-degree felonies, punishable by up to five years in prison and $5,000 fines, except for the grand theft of a person older than 65. That is a first-degree felony if the amount taken was more than $50,000, according to the statutes. First-degree felonies can carry up to life behind bars.
Detective Cohen said if people call his office they can expect attempts at prosecution, though it is not always possible since the scammers are frequently out of their jurisdiction, and in some cases, overseas.
Victims can call local police. They can also call the FTC, online or at 877-382-4357.
If the scam originated online, you can file a report with the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center.
The Florida Attorney General lists its latest investigations and ways to file complaints at Myfloridalegal.gov.
This article originally appeared on Daily Commercial: Woman charged with forgery, fraud and theft of grandfather's money