A magistrate has warned that financial exploitation of elderly people is on the rise and stronger action is needed to curb such abuse.
The warning was made by Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech while convicting a woman who helped herself to an elderly widow’s money, splashing out on luxuries for herself.
The court heard how the accused, Doris Borg, a 60-year old who got by on social benefits, would “insist” on helping her elderly neighbour, cooking her meals, washing her laundry and keeping her company.
Although Borg evidently expected compensation for her efforts, she later explained that the parish priest had urged her to do voluntary work.
But when her elderly neighbour, back in October 2016, turned up at the local police station, claiming that the balance in her savings account had plunged from around €9,000 to €8.06 in three months, police suspected foul play.
The widow had got the shock of her life and had broken down in tears, collapsing on her walker, when the bank informed her that her account was practically empty.
She had put aside money to have a decent funeral, like her husband’s, as confirmed by a neighbour who ran an undertaker’s business near her home.
Investigators traced a number transactions, both at the bank as well as retail outlets, which varied from the normal pattern previously adopted by the account holder.
There were ATM withdrawals which suddenly increased in frequency, spreading to other localities besides the branch in Hamrun, where the woman lived.
A Zabbar confectionery, a Hamrun pharmacy, a beauty parlour as well as a Zabbar service station all told police that Borg was a regular customer, confirming that she had paid by means of the victim’s debit card, signing the ePOS chits.
Her signature was subsequently confirmed by a court-appointed handwriting expert.
Borg had even purchased a Toyota Vitz, under part-exchange, for €8500, making a €5000 cash down payment in July 2016, which fell within the term of the charges dating from January to October of that year.
The elderly victim had immediately voiced suspicion when filing her police report, naming Borg as the suspect.
Yet Borg denied the allegations, explaining that her neighbour would regularly hand her Cashlink card to withdraw money on her behalf and had also invited her to use that card to pay for repairs after her car was involved in a collision.
A year after filing her report, the elderly widow was admitted to “long time care.”
At the time, she “openly” communicated, but her medical records showed that she was suffering from dementia and within the year, her condition had deteriorated.
Her testimony before a judicial assistant was deemed “totally incoherent” and detached from reality.
However Magistrate Frendo Dimech observed that the woman had been in control of her senses when “long before” she had gone to the police, explaining that her €9000 insurance policy payment had gone missing from her account.
She also said that the suspect insisted on caring for her and had also accompanied her to a notary to sign a power of attorney in her favour. That document was eventually never signed after the notary explained its implications to the victim.
She even told police that the suspect had bought a new car.
All those facts were proved, observed the court, noting further that the accused had paid for branded sunglasses, a set of four towels worth over €131, beauty treatments, as well as mobile telephony bills, a new car with extras.
She had withdrawn over €2400 in just four days, the court observed.
The accused had produced no evidence to show that she had paid the victim’s own bills for all daily needs and services.
A community care worker also testified that she occasionally paid for the victim’s shopping out of her own funds, since the elderly lady had no money.
On the basis of all evidence, the court found the accused guilty of misappropriation and money laundering, remarking that rather than doing her neighbour a favour, the accused exploited her vulnerability.
“Rather than help her, Borg tricked and robbed her,” misappropriating her funds to pay for her own luxuries, said Magistrate Frendo Dimech, condemning her to a 2-year jail term suspended for four years.
The court also fined the accused €25,000 and ordered the confiscation of all her assets.
Furthermore, the Magistrate rebuked all establishments who permitted the use of a debit card by a person other than the authorized holder, calling upon authorities to “seriously consider” sanctions to curb such abuse.
Pecuniary penalties and possible suspension of business licence should be considered, said the court, likewise calling out to banks to also ensure safer management of funds by vulnerable customers.
Such abuse is not tolerable especially when the state is doing its utmost to implement legislation to combat money laundering, said the court.
Superintendent Robert Vella prosecuted.
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