A son ripped off his mother’s equity in her home to chase an investment scheme for himself that failed.
Two ruthless swindlers were arrested in New York for tricking an elderly woman out of her multi-millionaire property in Harlem she had owned for over 40 years.
A home care worker bilked a frail elder out of her life’s savings of $350,000.
These shockers keep coming up. Family members do it. Salesmen touting unsuitable annuities do it. Realtors collude with thieves and they do it. Even lawyers do it. They prey on unsuspecting or impaired elders to rip them off.
Financial elder abuse is a problem all across the world and it’s growing. We need to be aware.
My mother in law, Alice, is 91 and still very sharp. She would be hard to fool, but I know the right thief could probably do some harm if we weren’t watching closely all that goes on financially. At least she has the good sense to question something that sounds too good to be true. Here’s an example.
She got a legitimate looking check in the mail for $3800, with a congratulatory letter advising that she was the second place winner of a sweepstakes in Canada. She does play various sweepstakes. All she had to do, of course, was to deposit it and “pay the taxes” on her “winnings”. She was advised to contact her “claims agent”. No doubt, that professional thief would have done a great job convincing someone unsuspecting to deposit the check and send “taxes”. Of course usually the check is rubber and the money is gone before the elder finds out that the check has bounced.
Classic scam. Alice called the number and said, “How do I know you’re legitimate?’ The thief told her if she was suspicious, she should hang up. She did. She then called my husband, Dr. Mikol Davis, who did an internet search for the phony address and told her she had just thwarted a thief. Alice is with it enough to question the check. Millions of seniors with any cognitive impairment are not so able to question things like this.
What we know from research into Alzheimer’s Disease is that one’s judgment about financial transactions may be the first thing to become impaired when the disease is in the earliest stages. “Mild cognitive impairment” as doctors may call it, is not so mild when you think about the financial damage that can result. And the elder with this early warning sign of dementia may be living independently, paying taxes on time and otherwise appearing socially normal. For a time.
Professional thieves have certainly studied what makes elders vulnerable. They buy names of people who have entered contests like sweepstakes, and troll for the isolated and lonely ones who will talk to someone on the phone. The sweepstakes officials get paid for selling the lists and no one cares what the buyer does with them.
Elders are truly sitting ducks, easy prey. Isolation, confusion, forgetfulness, and fears about running out of money can all drive the susceptibility to entering into a “deal” with a clever scammer.
If you have an aging parent or loved one with any form of mild cognitive impairment, early dementia or other disease that affects thinking and judgment, here are seven basic things family can do to reduce the risks of ripoff.
1. Check in often. If your aging parent lives alone this is crucial. One of my clients at AgingParents.com emails her dad every day to check in. Others call every day or close to it. Aging parents may not think they need this but they do.
2. Ask to be a co-signer on the main bank account in case of emergency. Some aging parents will agree and some will resist, but ask regardless. It will allow you to do online monitoring of the account activity. A “new friend” who gets money from them is a huge red flag.
3. Have your parent sign a Durable Power of Attorney appointing a competent and ethical agent, which could be you, a sibling or trusted other. If cognitive decline happens, the agent can at least get the money out of the account and put into another safer one that the impaired elder can’t access. This is one way to stop the thieves who are looking for impaired elders. Nothing in the account, no gain for them.
4. Suggest having your parent use a licensed fiduciary to handle money if they don’t want you to do it. If there are issues of not trusting you, an objective professional can protect them from abuse. You might do research to find a reputable one for them. This is also a safe bet for elders you know with no adult kids.
5. Provide and encourage parents’ connection to others. Think of isolation and loneliness as two big risk factors in why elders get financially abused. If you can provide encouragement for them to get involved in activities, it will make them less likely to want to talk to a smooth, slick “friendly” con artist on the phone.
6. Monitor who comes into your parents’ home regularly. Even the most trusted housekeeper, gardener, caregiver or bookkeeper can be tempted beyond reason when their own financial circumstances change for the worse. Your parents are all the more at risk when they trust the familiar person, who can use trust to exploit them.
7. Do background checks on any home care helpers who are hired to work for Mom or Dad. The cost is modest, and you can find out a lot: bankruptcies, poor driving records, and of course, criminal convictions and civil cases. Licensed home care agencies may do background checks, but ask to be sure.
The ripoff artists out there are both clever and relentless, but we can stop many of their opportunities. Please don’t take your aging parents’ financial judgment for granted. It can erode almost without notice, even in the brightest and most accomplished elders.
Until next time,
Carolyn Rosenblatt and Mikol Davis
****P.S. We are always here to help you get through the challenges of aging.
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