Sunday, July 21, 2024

Local exploitation case sheds light on rise in elderly financial abuse

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Reports of elder abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation have recently been on the rise in Texas. Earlier this year, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) reported that there were more than 50,000 confirmed cases in 2022 alone.

Alisa Powell and Bobbie Ferrell’s story of financial exploitation hits close to home. Powell contacted Spiderman Pest Control when she believed her 89-year-old mom, Ferrell, was experiencing a small rodent infestation.

Powell first noticed the sign advertised in her mom’s neighborhood. When Powell called, they agreed to do a free estimate to determine if there were rodents in Ferrell’s house. Powell, who was at work while the house was being inspected, asked the pest control service to call her with the estimate.  

“I was waiting on my phone to ring for the free estimate and for the opinion of what we had going on here,” Powell said. “Well, my phone never rang.”

When Spiderman Pest Control arrived at Ferrell’s house, they asked her to write a check for $1,895 before proceeding to spray the house for insects. Powell said the check was asked to be written directly to David Bullard, who is believed to be the owner of Spiderman Pest Control.

According to court documents, the service should have cost between $200-$300.  

“If something doesn't sound right about a service or price, please stop and call your family or a friend you can trust to give you advice,” Ferrell said in an email. “Never act on something that just doesn't feel right.”

Although Powell asked for the money back, she said the check had already been cashed. Powell said Bullard proceeded to tell her that the house was overrun with rats and that it would cost more money. 

“I feel completely cheated and I feel horrible that my mother has lost $1,895,” Powell said.

According to the DFPS, financial exploitation of an elderly person is the illegal or misuse of a person’s money or property for personal or financial benefit.

Ferrell’s case was not alone. There were three more confirmed cases in Gatesville that were connected to the pest control business. One included an 87-year-old who was charged $3,290.80 for a flea extermination, a service that normally costs around $300. 

Bullard was charged with four counts of exploitation of an elderly person. Bullard was arrested in July and released on bond after each arrest.

Bullard appeared to target older adults between the ages of 70 and 90 years old, said Cody Lee, operations commander of Gatesville Police Department.

“To me, they grew up in a time when somebody’s word actually meant something, and you took their word as it was,” Lee said.

As of Wednesday, Spiderman Pest Control’s website is live and there are still signs advertising the business around the Gatesville area. Lee said in an email that he does not know whether the business is still active.

“If they show up to offer a service, even if you call, do not let them do anything and don’t pay them anything until you understand what their fees and services are,” Powell said.

People can report suspected financial exploitation, abuse, or neglect of older adults to DFPS’ Texas Abuse Hotline at (800) 252-5400.