St. Catharine’s Community Comes Together to Support Senior Fraud Victim

28 July 2015

Leslie Harrison’s story is an alarming example of what fraud can do to a person’s finances. The 75-year-old St. Catharines resident was drained of about $200,000 by a fraud artist who both raided his bank account and mortgaged his home twice. This left him facing foreclosure and the loss of most of his possessions.

“It’s the worst case of elder abuse I have seen — and I have been here a long time,” Det. Sgt. Paul Spiridi of the Niagara Regional Police fraud squad told the St. Catharines Standard. “I’ve never seen anything like this where someone has taken a vulnerable adult and left them in a state where they are facing foreclosure.”

Michael T. Kennedy, 37, of Beamsville has been charged with fraud over $5,000 and laundering the proceeds of crime. The exact mechanism by which the alleged fraud artist, who was employed at a credit union as a mortgage specialist, was able to mortgage Harrison’s home without his consent has not been revealed, since the case is still in court. However, it seems that due to the suspect’s position, he was able to gain access to his victim’s assets in a way he wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.

Harrison showed a surprising lack of anger when he found out what had happened.

“He was my next-door neighbour from 2007 to 2012. I thought he was all right. I didn’t worry about him. I needed a new roof and he helped me with that. Then the frauding started,” he told the St. Catherines Standard. Harrison wasn’t familiar with credit transactions and used mostly cash so when Kennedy asked him to sign forms to allow him to use his credit card, he didn’t know what he was getting into.

“He got me to sign all these things,” he said. “I don’t know much about credit transactions. All my life I’ve used cash transactions. My father was always a cash person.”

However, the story has a slightly happier ending than you might expect. After Harrison’s experience was covered in local media, a fellow St. Catharines resident set up a GoFundMe account to help him pay back his debts. The page was successful, raising $1,450 within the first 17 hours. So far, a total of $4,665 has been raised.

Tammy Coull, who started the GoFundMe page, says she was drawn to helping Harrison because he reminded her of her own father.

“I was reading the story and I thought, ‘this guy has no family,” she told the St. Catherines Standard. “He is around my dad’s age when my dad died. When my dad had a hard time, he would come and live with me. This guy has nobody.”

Meanwhile, the credit union that employed Kennedy while he defrauded Harrison has promised to do whatever is necessary to help Harrison keep his home, which he has lived in for 35 years.

To help be alerted to certain activity in your credit file that could indicate credit card fraud, sign up for a credit monitoring service.