Written By: Evie Curtis – Development Director
There are times you do everything right, you do everything the “experts” tell you to do, you commit your time, your heart, and it all falls short. Barbara and Sally have reached the end of their collective rope in trying to help their mom.
Let me bring a long story to a short summary. Barbara and Sally’s mom is an 84-year-old ball of fire. She plays golf, loves her kids and grandkids, lives independently, has loads of friends, and loves her bridge group. She is what I want to be when I am 84. EXCEPT – Mom is a victim of financial fraud, buddy to a whole world of scammers, and unconvinced of the dangers she faces. This all started four years ago. In the four years, Barbara and Sally have gone from being daughters to detectives (while taking care of their families and holding down a full-time jobs).
To quote Barbara, “I will say that this article doesn’t express the horror of what has been done to my mom and the criminality that I haven’t been able to control. The stomachache and frustration I have felt as criminals control my mom.”
Before you say to yourself, “Wait, there are a lot of ways to protect yourself.” Let’s explore.
AARP has some of the best, most in-depth information on scams, on preventing fraud, and on how we can protect our financial life. I rely on their information. To help share this story, I used an article from the AARP website written by John Rosengren (Mr. Rosengren’s words are in italics, mine in bold print). You can access the article here.
How to Prevent It (Financial Elder Abuse)
Here are steps experts agree will help protect you and your aging loved ones.
· When a person is still mentally sharp, help him or her make a plan that designates power of attorney and health care directives. “We tend to want to keep financial matters private, but if we don’t have those discussions, that’s what blows things apart,” Schoen says.
Barbara and her mom set up a trust, placed all of Mom’s assets in the trust, and Barbara is now the sole trustee of the trust (Barbara was co-trustee). Barbara is also her mother’s agent under a financial power of attorney. Sally is her health care power of attorney. Done, done, and done.
· Stay connected with older loved ones through regular phone calls, visits, or emails.
Barbara and Sally love their mom, have a good relationship with Mom and talk with her several times a week. Barbara and Sally live out of town, but they try to visit in person every several months. Barbara has changed her mom’s phone number several times and each time the scammers are successful in getting the new number. Mom’s phone is as vital to her as it is to all of us. Mom does have internet access for email and Barbara monitors her emails.
· Develop a relationship with your parent’s caregiver. “They’ll be less likely to financially exploit Mother because they know you’re paying attention,” Brandl says.
Mom is independent and enjoys her independence. She lives in an independent retirement community. Barbara pays very close attention to the financial assets under Mom’s Trust and the activity in her checking account. Until recently, Mom had access to a debit card and a limited credit card. Because of the good work Barbara and Sally have done, Mom has excellent credit. Barbara – with her mom – froze Mom’s credit with the credit bureaus. The scammers walked Mom through how to “unfreeze” her credit. FYI – Mom is the only person who could have “unfrozen” her credit freeze.
· Become a “trusted contact” to monitor bank account and brokerage activity.
Good idea! In this case, Barbara has done this by putting the legal documents in place for Barbara to be in control of all bank accounts and investment accounts. Hint – no financial institution is going to willingly “share” information unless you are authorized to receive that information no matter how nice you are.
· Sign up for a service such as EverSafe to track financial activity and notify an advocate of unusual withdrawals or spending.
EverSafe (www.eversafe.com) is a credit monitoring company. Barbara needed more control and is now trying the True Link Visa® Prepaid card (there is a monthly charge). Assured Trust Company uses the True Link card with number of our relationships, and it helps us give clients access to spending but allows a review of the transaction before completing the payment and it limits the dollars available. You can also put restrictions on how the funds are used (i.e.: no alcohol). It is too early to say if this has been successful or if the scammers have figured out a “work-around.”
· Set up direct deposit for checks so others do not have to cash them.
Barbara has everything direct deposited (including Mom’s social security – not easy to do) into an account Barbara controls. In the past, Barbara only made a limited amount of money available for her mom to spend. To get around that, the scammers taught Mom how to open new accounts with deposits of fraudulent checks. (Just in case you need a refresher on how this scam works: Mom receives a fraudulent check for $5,000. She is asked to deposit the check and send the scammers a money order for $3,500. Mom can keep the rest. After processing, the check is returned to the bank as fraudulent, the bank will want the $5,000 back and now Mom is out $3,500. The scammers received their funds free and clear in a money order.) This has happened multiple times and no lesson has been learned (no need to ask “why?” because there is no answer).
· Do not sign any documents that you do not understand.
Another great idea. Most of us do not read the documents we sign. I am sure Barbara and Sally’s mom is not reading any of the deposit agreements when she opens these various bank accounts. In Mom’s case, the scammers are “friends” and what they tell her to do is what she will do without question.
There are more things you can do, and Barbara and Sally have been working their way through ideas one by one. Barbara and Sally have met with an elder law attorney and asked for a court protection for Mom’s social security number. It never made it to court because Mom is competent, her finances are in order, her bills paid, – basically Mom can take care of herself. Mom has a right to make poor decisions – we all do.
The police department and sheriff’s department have also been asked to help in the community where Mom lives. While law enforcement shares the concern, getting to the scammers located in other countries and stopping this scam and many other scams is a futile effort. In the past I have used community police officers to talk with the victim. It does present a very effective “message.” Not every community has police officers that have the time to help. Ask.
Bottomline – Barbara and Sally want to go back to being daughters. It is baffling to see how someone competent and as accomplished as Barbara and Sally’s mom cannot see how she is being used. Barbara and Sally have had many conversations with Mom and during the conversation promises are made. Promises the scammers turn around with each phone call they make. Yes, the scammers are that good.
No, so far there is no happy ending to this story