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Senior Center Resident Reportedly Lost $335K in ID Theft Scam

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An Alabama woman has reportedly agreed to plead guilty to identity theft and bank fraud charges for a scheme in which she stole more than $300,000 from an elderly resident at the senior center where she was employed. Shostocka Keya Ward, 43, of Vestavia Hills, used the resident’s bank account and credit card without authorization for more than three years to pay for her wedding, travel and send money to someone’s prison account, among other things, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of Alabama.

The release says Ward has a plea agreement, but as of April 22, she had not entered a plea with the court. Ward’s plea agreement says she will plead guilty to one count of aggravated identity theft and one count of bank fraud, in addition to paying $335,214 in restitution.

From Aug. 2010 to Jan. 2014, Ward worked as a resident assistant and transportation coordinator at Galleria Woods senior living center. She met the 75-year-old resident, who suffers from dementia, in 2011 and began forging checks and using the victim’s credit card in October 2011, according to the news release. She continued this practice through Feb. 13, 2014, Ward’s plea agreement says, making personal purchases, private-school tuition payments, car payments and credit card payments (for purchases she made on the victim’s accounts). The victim reportedly had no family, rarely received visitors and left power of attorney to an out-of-town family friend who wasn’t involved in managing the victim’s finances.

Sadly, this scheme follows a common pattern of identity theft: An elderly or disabled person with few friends or family members has a caretaker who ends up taking advantage of the person’s diminished capacity to monitor his or her finances. The thief often continues the scheme for years without getting caught.

Protecting elderly people from fraud usually falls to their family members (though sometimes, it’s the family doing the stealing), which makes people with little to no support system at higher risk for falling victim to these crimes. The government and seniors’-rights advocacy groups provide great resources for learning how to protect yourself and your loved ones, but that information is only as good as how well it’s applied — for example, trusting someone with your financial matters helps only if they’re actually trustworthy and diligently monitoring your accounts and credit. Making an identity- and asset-protection plan is an important step for all consumers, not just seniors, and in addition to accessing any free resources, such as getting your free monthly credit report summary from Credit.com, you can also consider using credit monitoring and identity-theft protection products.

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