WINNEBAGO COUNTY (WIFR) -- The difficult economy and an aging population have created a breeding ground for crimes against the elderly. It has become such a problem in our area, these cases are now getting more attention in court. Tonight a Rockford family shares their horrible experience so we learn how to prevent becoming a victim of financial exploitation.
"I never thought she could do that. It was very disappointing to me," says Rosa Reinhardt.
A postal box is where Rosa Reinhardt uncovered her daughter's lies.
"It was a wonderful situation, I thought. But I had no idea what was actually going on behind closed doors," says Rosa's daughter, Lorri Houde.
The 79-year-old Rosa lived with her daughter Diana Youmans for several years. Since so much of our mail is now online, Rosa didn't really question why it stopped getting delivered. That is until no birthday wishes showed up in July 2009. Her friend insisted he sent a card with cash.
Turns out, Diana opened a mailbox under Rosa's name. That's not all. Court documents show with Diana's power of attorney she wiped out her mom's bank accounts, used her savings to pay off a car and spent mortgage money on herself.
"The devastation is unrecoupable. We cannot recoup any of those losses," says Houde.
The damage, $68,000. And this type of financial exploitation is happening in Rockford everyday. The Visiting Nurses Association gets more than 400 cases of elder abuse reported in Winnebago and Boone Counties each year. They range from robbery, to mental and physical abuse and neglect.
"Individuals are willing to commit crimes against the elderly because they perceive the elderly to be weak and feeble and capable of being susceptible to crimes," says Winnebago County State's Attorney Joe Bruscato.
Bruscato says the elderly make excellent witnesses. But getting them comfortable to testify is difficult.
"We found sometimes those who are the victims of crimes don't even recognize what is happening to them is criminal," he says.
That's why he launched an Elder Abuse division to better track these cases and make sure the punishments are stiff. There are now 33 cases classified as "elder abuse" pending in court.
"The times are gone now where we say that's just a family matter," says Bruscato.
"I couldn't believe my own daughter would do something like this," says Reinhardt.
Rosa was hesitant turning Diana over to the police. But after being left with nothing, she had no choice.
"This is money my father worked all of his life to provide for my mother so she'd never be in the position she's in now, she's not supposed to worry about financial responsibilities now at all and that's all she does worry about," says Houde.
Rosa's daughter Lorri Houde has taken on that financial responsibility. She pays for Rosa's nursing home, which costs more than most of our mortgages.
Diana was convicted last January. She's now paying back Rosa's $68,000, fifty dollars a month at a time. And if she stops, she'll be sentenced to six months in jail. 23 News communicated with Diana via email, but she declined to comment for our report.
Here are a few warning signs of elder abuse in regards to financial exploitation:
-Caregiver refuses to allow contact with the elder
-Sudden change in finances
-Unexplained changes in wills or beneficiaries
-Unnecessary service, goods or subscriptions
If you believe someone is a victim of elder abuse, you can report it anonymously to the Visiting Nurses Association at (815)971-3748.