Rella is a 93 year-old Holocaust survivor. Not only has she had to endure the trauma of the concentration camps and losing her own mother at Auschwitz, but now she is the victim of elderly exploitation and grand theft . Beginning as early as 2011, her caretaker started exploiting her fragile condition by stealing small amounts of money. Then in 2015, Rella's only son passed away from cancer. The caretaker seized upon Rella’s fresh grief and began making exorbitant fraudulent charges with Rella’s credit cards that she unknowingly paid off, effectively stripping her of retirement funds, much of which came from Holocaust reparation checks from the German government. Florida state forensic investigators estimate the theft to be over $100,000.00. While the caretaker has been arrested, Rella and her ninety-one year old husband have been left reeling and can’t afford even the most basic home care . Any help you can provide will go a long way towards providing them stability in the twilight of their lives.
How did this happen?Leonard and Rella are in their nineties and live in the same home that Leonard -- a contractor before he retired -- built back in 1963. The majority of Leonard and Rella's closest friends have passed on, and their son (my father) succumbed to cancer in 2015. The loss of my dad sent Rella into a deep depression, after which she and Leonard rarely left the house.
Instead, they depended on their trusted caretaker to purchase drug prescriptions and groceries. Leonard was responsible for paying both his and Rella’s credit card bills every month. But the credit card statements started disappearing from the mail box for months at a time. Leonard would call the credit card companies to complain. He received several card replacements, and never suspected that the caretaker was hiding the bills from him. When he did receive his statements, he saw the same places — Publlx, Walgreens, CVS — but he couldn’t understand why the totals were so high. All the cards were supposed to be used for were things like buying prescriptions, a challah bread, gas, and a morning coffee at McDonalds.
Leonard spoke to the fraud management departments of the card companies on multiple occasions. The fraud department investigated the claim and determined they did not see any signs of fraud taking place. This is something that I am still shocked by. I later learned that credit card companies do not monitor gift card transactions, even though according to Miami police gift cards are one of the most common forms of money laundering in Florida. Leonard wasn’t sure what to do. He was no longer working and afraid if he didn’t pay the bills he would lose both of their credit cards.
Finally, my grandfather asked me to help him figure out what was going on. Although he owned a computer, he didn’t know how to work it. It took me all of ten minutes to plug in his desktop, fix his internet and log in to his account. What I found was an incredibly high frequency of charges at two local Publix grocery stores. Sometimes there would be up to four or five total trips to two different Publix grocery stores in the same day! It was obvious something was wrong…
I took the statements and credit card numbers to one of the grocery stores and asked a manager to print out all my grandparents' itemized receipts for the last few months. I sat there waiting for 45 minutes. When she returned, her face was ashen. The manager told me the card had clearly been compromised — whoever was making the purchases had been buying exorbitant amounts of gift cards. I was surprised, but not shocked.
I returned home and had a terrible pit in my stomach. How was I going to tell my grandparents that the caretaker they had trusted for almost seven years had been stealing from them? I collected all of the itemized receipts I could and put it into a big folder. I sat my grandparents down on the couch and told them the terrible news. At first they were stunned, almost in shock. Rella couldn’t believe it. She was absolutely traumatized. To be betrayed like this after everything she went through was too much.
My grandfather Leonard is a proud man, a stable provider— always private about his finances. I could tell he was embarrassed. It’s a very shameful thing as a man who has worked his whole life to admit they had been a victim of something like this. Myself? I was angry. I live in California and visit once or twice a year, but still feel I should have been able to do more. I was determined to make sure my grandparents’ case was taken seriously by local police. I called the department and insisted they look into the fraud. This caretaker could not be allowed to do this to someone else.
The devastation to my grandparents has been staggering. Now in their nineties, they are afraid they may lose their home. But this story is far from over. The overwhelming goodwill, generosity, and kind words have given them hope. And that is something no one can take with a credit card.