Don’t Let Your Mother-In-Law Get Duped

Q. My 70 year old mother-in-law, Geraldine, is a lot like the character “Rose” from the 80’s sitcom, Golden Girls. Although she was always a kind and gentle person, she is becoming more and more naïve and trusting. You would never believe that just five years ago, she was a successful business owner who made sound decisions. Now my husband tells me the doctor thinks she is in the early stages of dementia. We are very concerned about her decision-making capabilities.

I was over at her apartment one day with my son, who was home from college, and she picked up a call on her cell phone from a telemarketer. Next thing I know, she was giving him her personal information. I signaled for her to stop and hang up. When she got off the phone, she told me that the caller was promising the “investment opportunity of a lifetime.”

She will be moving in with our family soon, but the calls may not stop, since many of them are on her cell phone. I might not always be around to stop her from giving her information out. How can I convince her, before it is too late, that calls such as the one we witnessed are most likely fraudulent?

A. Sadly, with the increasing proportion of aging baby boomers, such as your mother-in-law, criminals are under the impression that they have a wealth of potential victims. According to a survey on elder fraud from Investor Protection Trust, 20% of unsuspecting retirees become victims of financial fraud. The same study reveals that one in every five Americans over 65, or about 7.5 million people, has lost money through financial fraud.

As we age, our ability to discern the credible from the not-so-credible decreases. And retirees in the early stages of diseases like dementia or Alzheimer’s, such as your mother-in-law, are more prone to fall for illegitimate phone, mail, or email-based money-grabbing schemes.

As a rule of thumb, if it seems too good to be true, it’s probably a scam. With that in mind, since you can’t be around all the time, gently remind your mother-in-law not to sign up for sweepstakes, travel giveaways, or suspicious free gift offers. According to the National Consumers League fraud center, once the scam bait has been taken, her contact information may end up on a “suckers list,” where it’s collected and then sold to outside parties. From that time onward, she will likely find herself receiving a plethora of fake mailings and phone calls.

The following are some common scams that target seniors:

• Telemarketing or mail fraud: Dishonest scammers use the phone to sell seniors goods that either never arrive or are worthless junk. In addition, they often conduct investment and credit card fraud, lottery scams, and identity theft. Telemarketers take in an estimated $40 billion each year, bilking one in six American consumers. AARP claims that about 80% of them are 50 or older.

• Health Care/Medicare/Health Insurance Fraud: In these types of scams, perpetrators may pose as a Medicare representative to get older people to give them their personal information, or they will provide bogus services for elderly people at makeshift mobile clinics, then use the personal information they provide to bill Medicare and pocket the money.

•  Grandparent Scam: Since she has at least one grandson in college, she should be aware of a frightening scam that comes as a call from someone pretending to be a family member needing money. The criminals often do intensive research on the potential victim’s family, so their story may sound credible. If this happens to her, tell her to ask the person if you can call them back later and immediately check the facts with your family. Suggest to your mother-in-law that she should NEVER give money to anyone without verifying their identity.

• Using Fraudulent Legal Documents: Many scammers cloak their actions in legal authority, procuring a power of attorney or will or other legal document giving them access to a senior’s property. They get seniors to sign these documents by lying, intimidation, or threatening of the seniors. To ensure that this does not happen, make sure that your documents are done in a safe and ethical manner by a Certified Elder Law Attorney, such as myself. Make her aware that any other estate planning or incapacity documents presented as hers are not authentic.

Of course, there are plenty of other scams out there, including phony charities asking for donations, advance-fee loans, fake checks and identity theft. Read the FBI Common Fraud Schemes Web page or the Better Business Bureau Scam Stopper Web page for more details and be sure to report any scams to the Better Business Bureau.

You mentioned that your mother in law was diagnosed with dementia. Persons with dementia and their families face special legal and financial needs. At The Fairfax and Fredericksburg Dementia Planning Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C., we are dedicated to easing the financial and emotional burden on those suffering from dementia and their loved ones.  If you have a loved one who is suffering from dementia, we can help you prepare for your future financial and long-term care needs.  We help protect the family’s hard-earned assets while maintaining your loved one’s comfort, dignity, and quality of life by ensuring eligibility for critical government benefits. If you have not done Long-Term Care Planning, Estate Planning or Incapacity Planning (or had your Planning documents reviewed in the past several years), or if you have a loved one, such as your mother-in-law, who is nearing the need for long-term care or already receiving long-term care, call us at 703-691-1888 in Fairfax or 540-479-1435 in Fredericksburg to make an appointment for a consultation.

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.