<a href="mailto: pzekman@cbs.com; mhlebeau@cbs.com; dlblom@cbs.com" target="_blank">Send Your Tips To Pam Zekman</a>By Pam Zekman

CHICAGO (CBS) — Financial exploitation of the elderly is on the rise.

Among the worst exploiters are caretakers who steal from the seniors they are supposed to care for.

2 Investigator Pam Zekman reports on one of the worst cases ever handled by the Cook County Public Guardian’s Office — the case of a man suffering from severe dementia.

“I didn’t realize what was going on really,” Marshall Davies says.

Before he could be discharged from St. Joseph’s hospital in 2008, doctors said Davies had to have a full-time caretaker in his home. So he hired Carmelita Pasamba, a certified nursing assistant who’d cared for him in the hospital.

“Mr. Davies was extremely vulnerable,” says James Burton, an assistant public guardian. “He was nearly 90 years old in 2008. He was already exhibiting signs of dementia. And so he was the perfect prey.”

Now the Public Guardian’s Office is trying to get back more than half a million dollars the agency says Pasamba and her family improperly took from Davies over about two and a half years.

“We tend to be jaded sometimes because we see this type of stuff all the time, but this one takes the cake,” Burton says. “Essentially Mr. Davies was their own personal ATM machine.”

How did it happen? First, Pasamba brought Davies to the Filipino American Council to get legal help from Alfonso Bascos, a council board member and attorney who has offices there.

The Public Guardian’s office says Bascos prepared a new will and trust agreement for Davies giving $20,000 to various social service agencies affiliated with the Filipino American Council and giving Pasamba and her family a total of $175,000 upon Davies’ death.

Bascos also prepared a power of attorney giving Pasamba authority to handle Davies’ financial affairs, including making withdrawals and writing checks from Davies’ bank account.

Records obtained by the Public Guardian’s Office show Pasamba used Davies’ money to make a $10,000 down payment on a new $50,000 Mercedes. She also wrote checks for thousands of dollars to pay for her daughter’s tuition and to finance her son’s dance studio.

Her sister, Jocelyn Baker, also worked as caretaker for Davies. Over and above her caretaker salary, she got more than $20,000 she used to remodel her apartment and buy furnishings.

And after Carmelita Pasamba helped Davies sell his condo for $189,000, she gave herself a $50,000 “bonus” from the proceeds, Burton says. She also withdrew $50,000 from his bank account on three other occasions.

“I call it theft — that’s what it is,” Burton says.

Pasamba says they were loans and that she always asked for Davies to approve what she did.

“He was competent and he was alert and oriented the time that I was working for him,” she tells Zekman.

Pasamba spent some of the money fixing her flood-damaged basement and adding a bathroom. She also purchased new stainless steel appliances for her kitchen and a flat-screen TV, among other things.

Pasamba says she now regrets spending the money.

“I just realize that what I did is not right,” she says.

As for Davies, he says he can’t afford to lose the money.

The Public Guardian’s Office is planning to sue everyone involved in this case to try and get back some of Davies’ retirement money.

To prevent this from happening to you or a loved one, experts say you should hire an attorney who specializes in estate planning and make your wishes for your care and finances known in writing.  And always hire caretakers from licensed agencies.

The Illinois Department of Aging has more information on the warning signs of financial exploitation of a senior on its website.

To report a possible case of elder financial abuse, you can also call the agency’s hotline: 1 (866) 800-1409.

In Cook County, you can call the Cook County Public Guardian’s office at (312) 603-0800.

Watch & Listen LIVE