(Consumer Alert) -- It is a family's nightmare. You hire someone to help care for your elderly parent and that person ends up stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars. But there are ways to protect yourself.
Edward Whitehead's final years were difficult. Dementia was robbing the 91-year-old of his memory and an attendant was draining his bank account. His daughter Susan Lewis said, "She portrayed herself as a caregiver. She immediately took over and controlled everything."
Susan Lewis is talking about Diane Harvell, the woman hired to provide transportation for their father and help with small tasks. What happened next is a warning for all families. Postal inspector Michael Van de Putte said, "She managed to weasel her way into the family, and ostracized him from his children, managed to convince him that she was the only one he could trust."
Whitehead's son said, "She wanted to keep us away. If she could keep us away that way we couldn't force her into court or get more information on her."
Harvell convinced whitehead to sign over his power of attorney. She then altered his will and forged notary public signatures all without his family knowing. Susan said, "She signed all documents as if she were his daughter. She signed Do Not Resuscitate."
When Edward Whitehead died, none of his family knew. Susan said, "This woman was 10 steps ahead of us; the moment we found out our father was deceased… We found out that evening, the next morning she was down there filing a forged will. The next morning. Wow. That was fast."
Postal inspectors began pouring over bank records and surveillance video and verified Harvell stole hundreds of thousands of dollars. Van de Putte said, "She took his money in structured withdrawals… less than $10,000 from the bank, drained over $200,000 of his personal savings."
Investigators say her control and his dementia were a terrible combination. Van de Putte said, "Senior citizens generally have savings, or a decent amount of money, and are generally easy targets because they are very trusting."
Some advice from postal inspectors is don't wait until it's too late to set up a plan that protects your elderly loved ones. Van de Putte adds, "Be wary of any new person coming into your life especially if you are dealing with a senior citizen, or a parent, grandparent that suffers from dementia/Alzheimer's."
Susan said, "What she has done. The woman has no feelings… there is something mentally, seriously mentally wrong with this woman. She absolutely has no heart whatsoever…"
Harvell faces mail theft, ID theft, mail fraud, forgery and several other charges. Postal inspectors say she could face up to 15 years in prison.