Picture this scenario. Your elderly aunt lives in a nearby state. You are on good terms, stay in touch, and speak to her regularly by phone. But one day you realize that she hasn’t called for a month or so. The last time you spoke with her, she mentioned a new friend, caregiver, or neighbor. She was happy that the new person offered to help her with groceries or errands and appeared very attentive. She may view this person as enabling her to maintain her independence. Normally this is not cause for concern and the new friend, caregiver, or neighbor may be truly selfless and interested only in helping. However, you should be on the lookout for the following warning signs that something more than friendship is afoot.
1. Your relative stops calling you and other longtime friends.
2. Every time you call, the new friend answers the phone, or is listening in the background when you speak to your family member.
3. The new friend dismisses existing caregivers and declines and discourages offers of help from you and others.
4. Your family member becomes more and more dependent on the new friend and the new friend asks for a power of attorney or to be added to bank accounts.
5. The new friend answers all questions directed to your relative by third parties, such as healthcare providers.
6. When you visit your relative, the new friend doesn’t leave the room.
This list is not exhaustive and there may be other warning signs as well. The financial exploiter’s goal is to foster the victim’s dependence and sever the victim’s ties with existing friends and family members who could intervene to help.
The exploiter may tell the targeted victim, your family member, falsehoods. For example, the exploiter may say that you want to put him or her in a nursing home. Therefore, the victim will think that you should be avoided. This is one of the most heartbreaking aspects of financial exploitation; it seeks to destroy existing close relationships for the exploiter’s financial gain.
Staying involved and present in the victim’s life in the face of this type of onslaught is difficult and emotionally challenging. If you find yourself in this position, get help.
- Speak with other family members.
- Contact the appropriate state agencies.
- Seek legal advice.
Recognizing the signs is crucial to stopping financial exploitation.