A Plan and Tips to Prevent Elder Abuse

photo42I’m just coming back from a great visit with my elderly parents. They have battled health problems but are both mentally sharp. They still live in their home, have each other and a mob of children and grandchildren to regularly check in on them.

But about a year or two ago my well-educated, savvy dad got conned by someone on the phone pretending to be his grandson in need of cash after a supposed auto accident in Europe. As far as cons go it was not a great but good enough to get my trusting dad to go down to Western Union and send about a $1000 to the crooks. At the time he did not tell my mother or anyone else about it and did not contact anyone who could have told him that grandson Jeff was not even in Europe.

Elder abuse comes in many many forms, from financial schemes to physical and mental cruelty. It is all around us. Predators spot frailty and opportunity and swoop down like crows to a kill.

I am helping a client investigate a situation involving her elderly father, whose wife died and who then married a much younger woman. He met the younger woman through a caretaker associated with his wife. The situation is a big mess and is bogged down in the courts.

I asked the client for some tips to help others watch over their elderly parents and loved ones. She wrote:

1. If you have an elderly, vulnerable parent that lives alone, talk to him about protecting his assets so he is not a target for a scammer. Do this BEFORE your parent starts meeting people who could scam him. We did this too late, as the sweetheart scammer had secretly moved in first and dad had already made her promises. He would not put proper protections in place even though he had a lawyer, and over the next year he changed his will to leave her everything to the exclusion of his natural heirs. She was spending half of each week with her ex.
These scammers appear like a wolf in sheeps’ clothing, very sweet and trustworthy and first they find common ground with the victim so as to develop a bond. You will not know what to think at first. If she or he seems to good to be true they are! My dad’s scammer was much younger than dad and was acting as a caretaker. There was worse to come- he secretly married her when she felt her control was threatened. Pay attention.
2. Educate yourself about the signs of elder scams and sweetheart scams. If your elder parent is withdrawing from friends and family, acting strange on the phone or becoming secretive, beware because there is worse to come. STAY INVOLVED no matter how uncomfortable. Watch for uncharacteristic behavior, unusual purchases, or commonly used sob stories from the new “friend” such as a sick relative abroad or the need to flee from an abusive spouse and find refuge with your parent who can rescue them. This is brainwashing and it works. My dad started calling his abuser endearing terms when he had never used that language to describe mom.

3. Hire an investigator and find out everything you can about the perpetrator. Don’t count on Adult Protective Services to help you. When you see things that concern you document them, then talk to a lawyer that specializes in elder abuse. If your parent has capacity you may have an undue influence situation and those are tricky. Many people told me to get my dad out of it so he would wake up from the brainwashing but it was too late. We have a lawyer now and I think we will get some protections in place, but my dad was a healthy man and has been sick ever since she moved in. He lost 40 pounds in just a couple of years and is malnourished. We are still worried she is making him sick, and ¬†will put him in the ground, so she can get his estate quicker and we are scared for him. It is a really difficult situation, and can happen right under your nose even of you are involved children like we are.