Tacoma family accuses caregiver of charging thousands of dollars to their bank account
TACOMA, Wash. - A Tacoma man on his deathbed, desperate to make the most of his final days became the target of a caregiver hired to ease his family's burden.
Crimes against the elderly are on the rise.
The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) is part of a national fraud watch network, and it reports startling research that suggests 1 in 10 Americans ages 60 and over have experienced some form of elder abuse.
A Tacoma family fears it's part of that heartbreaking reality.
What happened to Armand Longchamps, happened when he was defenseless.
"I think for me it was so hard, because he was dying and this was going on," said his widow, Jean Longchamps.
She believes a caregiver hired to help her husband in his final days, helped herself to their bank account.
"Why would you do that when you know he's dying?" asked Longchamps.
Not long after her husband's funeral, Jean opened her bank statement and realized money was missing.
"The first thing I see is these pages with all these Safeco, Lowes, Home Depot and I panicked," said Longchamps, looking over dozens of bank documents at her dining room table.
Nearly $5,000 in unauthorized electronic credit card payments were charged to the couple's bank account.
"What you are looking at is, first; a copy of mom's bank statement," said Jean's daughter, Joanne Tollefson, while pointing to a list of e-pay charges.
Tollefson went through every unauthorized charge.
They range from a whopping $835 at Lowes and $400 in Chevron gas charges to nearly $1,000 paid to Walmart, and at least four other charges.
"These add up to $4,800," said Tollefson.
She thinks her parents' checkbook proved easy prey. It was tucked inside a top desk drawer in the couple's dining room.
Tollefson and the Pierce County Sheriff's Office Elder Fraud Unit, which is now investigating, think the couple's bank account number and routing number, found on checks, were used to set up online electronic payments.
"She understands online banking and she understands routing numbers yeah, she's our suspect, we know who she is and where she's at," said Detective Ed Troyer with the Pierce County Sheriff's Department.
Because she has not been charged in this case and remains under investigation, we are not identifying the caregiver.
Detective Ed Troyer said investigators are waiting for credit card transaction records for the prosecutor's office.
"I'm guessing when it all shakes out we'll find she is a suspect in other cases as well," said Troyer.
"That is a tragedy," said Bob Riler with Pierce County's Agency on Aging.
Riler told the KOMO Investigators while the majority of caregivers are excellent, some slip through the cracks,
"It takes a high degree of diligence on the part of families who are bringing strangers into their house," said Riler.
Which is why he urges taking precautions.
"Don't put temptation out in front of people's eyes," said Riler.
He also suggests locking up those valuables, especially a checkbook,
"Go as deep as you can for background checking," said Riler.
Detective Troyer suggests asking questions about those background investigations.
"What do you actually check? How deep into the background do you go, " said Troyer.
Anyone can request and pay for a background check through the Washington State Patrol, but it only covers conviction history in Washington state, and the information can be incomplete or inaccurate.
It's a fingerprint based system, meaning any case without fingerprints, won't show up in the system.
Washington State requires federal background checks for certain types of care providers.
That same fingerprint requirement can make them incomplete too.
"What you have to understand is, nothing may be there (in the background check) but that doesn't mean the person is without fault," said Riler.
The home services agency the Longchamps' caregiver worked for told the KOMO Investigators they run both state and federal background checks.
They wouldn't comment on this investigation, other than to say the caregiver no longer works for them.
When we ran our own state patrol check on the caregiver, we found no criminal record in Washington.
But a fee-based online public records database called LexisNexis provided a prior address for her in Nevada.
A quick and free online search of Nevada's public court records netted two hits.
In 2004, she was ordered to served six months in jail for, "attempt possession of a stolen vehicle" and that same year she pleaded guilty for "possession of forged instruments."
Findings that stunned the Longchamps.
"I don't want it happening to anyone else," said Armand's widow.
"You have to remember when someone walks into your house to give care you are the employer, yeah you went through an agency and such, but you are the employer," said Riler.
Tollefson said her mom had no idea a checkbook could leave her so vulnerable.
She said their mission now is to warn others and get justice.
"I'm not going to rest until she pays for it," said Tollefson.
The Department of Health tells us home care providers who perform daily tasks like bathing, feeding and toileting clients must have a state credential that requires background checks.
But the DOH said providers who help with errands like laundry and house cleaning don't need a state credential.
An important difference, if you're shopping for a provider or hiring through a senior care company.
The KOMO Investigators will stay on the Longchamps' case and let you know what happens.
In the meantime, the Longchamps said the bank has returned the money into Longchamps' account.
We've also learned while the caregiver remains under investigation, she was recently arrested and is accused of shoplifting at a local Costco.