Lenexa man charged with stealing from couple in their 80s highlights widespread problem of elder abuse

MERRIAM, Kan. -- A man charged with stealing from a couple in their mid-80s. Until Monday afternoon, he was still working with the elderly.

Elder abuse: It's a common crime, impacting millions of Americans every year. But it's almost impossible to discover unless someone reports it.

Virakboth Touch, 20, of Lenexa, worked as a caregiver for an elderly Merriam couple this summer. He's accused of spending thousands of dollars of their money on himself -- about $2,500.

FOX 4's Rebecca Gannon spoke with Touch's new employer Monday afternoon. That employer said he had no idea Touch was charged with mistreating dependent adults or identity theft, until we told him. Touch is now on administrative leave from that position.

"Elderly people as a whole tend to trust people more. And they're having that kindness taken advantage of," said Capt. Troy Duvenal of the Merriam Police Department.

It takes a cruel person to take advantage of the elderly. That's what Johnson County prosecutors say Virakboth Touch did.

He was the home health care provider for a Merriam couple. Prosecutors say he 20-year-old spent about $2,500 of his clients' money in less than 20 days.

And among the places police say he spent it was Ikea; which, coincidentally, is just down the street from the Merriam Police Department.

"They are one of the easier crimes to investigate," said Duvenal.

Yes, it's easy to trace the crimes, once police discover there is a crime.

"There's usually a well-documented paper trail," continued Duvenal, "especially through electronic transactions -- credit cards and bank statements."

Experts say financial elder abuse is grossly under-reported. Nationally, one out of every ten older persons will be a victim. Kathy Greenlee, who was the Elder Abuse Point Person for the Dept. of Health and Human Services under President Obama, said most of the victims are isolated and lonely and in plain sight.

Johnson County District Attorney Steven Howe agrees: "It's present everywhere."

Howe's office has a designated financial elder abuse division for cases just like Touch's.

"Other than by family members," said Howe, "the biggest percentage of people who take advantage of senior citizens is home health care workers."

Greenlee said, "it’s a complicated problem without any single solution".

Howe says financial elder abuse increases during the holidays. But, as families get together for the holidays, this is also the best time to have that difficult discussion with your older relatives.

One of the top suggestions is to have redundant transparency: multiple eyes keeping a close watch on bank accounts. That's how Merriam police say Virakboth Touch was discovered.

Many times, said Greenlee and Howe, the elderly won't report being victims, because they fear they'll lose their independence.

"Many times," said Howe, "they don't want to admit that they're vulnerable, because if they admit that they're vulnerable, they lose their freedoms."

He advised, "let them know you don't want to take away their independence. But you just want to make sure they're safe."

Help and resources on elder abuse:

National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse

Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services

Stanford Medicine

Fidelity: Prevent financial elder abuse