I was recently asked by a family member to take their mother to the bank and have her write a check for cash to withdraw a little spending money. The client has dementia and was so confused, I had to explain every step to this person so she could make this simple transaction. I was certain the teller would suspect I was taking advantage of her. The police would be called and I would be hauled away to jail. I jokingly asked the daughter to vouch for me if I was arrested.
What is amazing is not that I was not arrested (thank goodness) but that the family trusted me to help their mother take out money. Some people would have taken advantage of this person, but that is not what I do and the family knows this because of my reputation and my previous actions with their mother that had me earning their trust.
Here are some schemes that bilk the elderly of their finances and ways to prevent them from being taken advantage of:
Calling and claiming to be a grandchild in trouble or from the IRS or the State Police. The solution to the problem is almost always to send gift cards. No solution is every solved by $10,000 in a box store’s gift card. You need to emphasize this to your loved one.
Having someone ‘help’ someone with dementia and eventually severely limiting or denying the family contact with that person. This is called undue influence and it is a crime but very hard to prove because it is often uncovered after the person dies. Since the caregiver (a stranger or relative) was so ‘close’ to them they are the only one named in the new will. The best way to combat this is to make sure you or someone you trust visits often and makes their presence known.
If you are using an agency, ask about their screening process. Even the best agencies can have a bad apple. Ask for details about the person they are sending, and let you know if a substitute is being used. If you are having help come to someone’s house, either hide valuables well or take them to someone else’s home. The home care industry is filled with angels and thieves. Seek out references. This is one industry that you get what you pay for.
Home improvement schemes target the elderly with sometimes unneeded or shoddy work. Always ask for references and try to use neighborhood apps to ask about the company. No one should hire someone who has extra materials from another job and rings your door unsolicited. This is a huge red flag. You get what you pay for. Experienced, respected craftsmen are not cheaper than everyone else.
Conning the elderly into giving their birthday or social security number to someone who they do not know and did not call. They may think they do because the person is from the IRS, the hospital or bank. In this case, people need to ask what department they are from. Then, look up a number for that hospital or the IRS, etc. and ask if they called. Never ask the person calling what number they can be reached at.
Romance schemes can not only be financially devastating, they can be humiliating. Do not send money to anyone you meet online, even if you have met them in person a few times. Helping someone out financially that you do not know well is always a bad idea. Check in with others you trust before handing over money.
There are so many schemes out there and AI makes them even more convincing than ever. Knowing what schemes exist are a great step toward preventing them. If you or your relative is the result of a scam, contact your local police department or state attorney general.