Rhonda is a 91-year-old widow and lives independently. She has a few million in investments and has planned well for retirement. Her two sons are busy and leave her to make decisions about her money independently. What Rhonda’s sons didn’t know was how vulnerable she was to a financial predator. She loved to play sweepstakes and did so regularly, a year before things came to a crisis point.
She got really excited about the prospect of winning. A scammer, who probably purchased her name from the sweepstakes companies, got in touch with her by phone. “You’ve won!” he exclaimed excitedly. He then went on to use a classic scammer’s trick. He told her she could get her million-dollar check if she would just pay the “fee” for transferring the funds. Sometimes the trick is paying the “taxes” or the “insurance fee”. It’s all the same. The scammer, or predator, claims that they will deliver the check in person in exchange for the cash from the mark. Scammers of this sort often target the elderly because they are easier prey.
Luckily, Rhonda’s son found out and he and his brother tried hard to talk their mother out of this. She insisted that they didn’t understand and that “Mr. Banks” (don’t you love the name?) was a good person and that he was going to deliver her winnings to her for real in person soon. No amount of reasoning could persuade her she was about to be victimized.
Her son, Jamie called us at AgingParents.com. “What can I do?” he asked. We had to act fast as “Mr. Banks” was coming the following week to “deliver her winnings” and pick up the check. Rhonda was still the trustee over her multi-millions despite the fact that she had been showing clear signs of cognitive impairment for over two years. No one had taken any steps to keep her safe until this crisis.
We asked Jamie to get her trust and any estate planning documents ASAP. He did so. Reviewing them showed that he was a co-trustee on the trust. It also revealed that Jamie was the “attorney in fact” on her Durable Power of Attorney and that he could act immediately. He got careful step-by-step instructions as to how to stop transactions on her accounts, and how to confront the nefarious “Mr. Banks” when he called to finalize the time to meet with Rhonda.
I personally called Rhonda’s financial advisor to let him know about the imminent abuse, that transactions should be held until either Rhonda resigned as trustee or until Jamie could put a stop to Rhonda’s attempts to get thousands of dollars for the predator. The advisor’s response was: I don’t know of anything I can do”. That shocked me. He could have put a hold on transactions until Jamie was able to get Rhonda to allow Jamie to be a co-signer on the accounts. Jamie did this but with no help from the financial advisor.
Fortunately, the outcome on this matter was successful. Jamie used the power of attorney to stop any transfers out of Rhonda’s account. She was too confused to argue with that action. When “Mr. Banks” called, Jamie was present and asked him “Who are you anyway?” Banks claimed he was a long lost relative and when Jamie told him he was nothing of the kind and to get lost, he actually did. Rhonda did not hear from him again. Whew, close call!
The takeaways for adult children of aging parents from this true case are these:
- Stay in contact with your aging parent. Diminished capacity leaves a trail. If you see those little signs of memory loss, consider that your loved one is probably not safe to be the one in sole charge of her finances. Predators love impaired elders. Protect them from abuse by being a co-signer on all accounts.
- Get documents in order. Make sure that you have estate-planning documents, including a power of attorney and that someone in the family is appointed to take over in the event of incapacity. When you see incapacity warning signs, pay attention. Don’t just let the elder keep going on alone with their money decisions.
- Recognize that your aging parents, age 85 and up are at very high risk for dementia or diminished capacity. The risk is at least one in three. Some experts put it at 50%. Be on the lookout for signs of diminished capacity and have a plan in place to address it. In the earliest stages of dementia, a person loses financial judgment and is a prime target for scammers of all kinds.
Learn more about we can help you protect your aging parent from becoming prey to predatory scammers at AgingParents.com.