Aging Forward: Beware the $50,000 Lesson

Patrick Arbore
By Patrick Arbore December 15, 2014 15:31

Patrick Arbore

I spoke recently with a friend whose 80-year-old father had wired $50,000 to a British woman he had never met.

He transferred the money after a phone call from a stranger whom he described as “a lovely woman who was very interested in me.”

The woman told him he had won more than $200,000 and must send $50,000 right away to cover taxes and other charges. Once she received this cash, the woman continued, she would send him the $200,000.

He was crestfallen when his daughter told him it was a scam. “I can’t believe it,” he reacted. “She was so kind and happy that I won all this money.”

But the story didn’t end with the loss of $50,000.

Two months later, the daughter told me, her father received another call from the same scammer. She told him he had won another $100,000 – all he had to do was to wire $25,000, and he would then receive a total of $300,000.

Once again he believed the caller and was ready to wire the money. Fortunately, a bank employee noticed that the man’s daughter had flagged his account; the $25,000 was not transferred.

“How could he not realize that this was a scam?” his exasperated daughter asked me. “He already lost $50,000, and he could have lost $25,000 more. This would have wiped out his savings. I don’t understand.”

Financial fraud is epidemic. According to the Federal Trade Commission, people 60 and older accounted for just 10 percent of all financial fraud complaints in 2008. By 2012, older adults accounted for 26 percent of those complaints – the highest of any age group.

More and more often, scammers both in this country and abroad are targeting older Americans. They exploit lonely older men and women through fake compassion and caring.

In the case above, the widowed father lives alone. Because of limited mobility and other health problems, he has slipped into isolation. His daughter lives out of state and has urged him to move in with her or find an apartment near her. But he insists on staying in his Mother Lode home of more than 50 years.

What can we do to help preserve our parents’ independence and prevent financial abuse or mismanagement?

If you suspect abuse of any kind, contact Adult Protective Services in your county (see info box).

APS attempts to balance individual rights with concern for safety and welfare. Its staff can meet with the older adult to conduct an assessment to determine what needs, if any, are unmet.

APS also contacts law enforcement if there is evidence of abuse, financial or otherwise. If an older adult needs assistance at home, APS can offer referrals. Low-income elders may qualify for help at a reasonable cost.

Generally home-care agencies hire providers who are bonded, trained and genuinely care for their older clients. Having such a provider visit on a regular basis may provide companionship and reduce risk of abuse.

Americans are living longer and many older people are dealing with chronic medical conditions, loneliness and isolation. Adult children or other guardians must constantly assess their loved one’s ability to manage the activities of daily living – including handling money.

If financial competence – so central to our independence and well-being – begins to slip, a trusted family member may have to step in, have a frank conversation with the at-risk parent or relative, and perhaps assume financial responsibility. In some cases, inability to handle finances may signal a serious medical problem, and a discussion with your loved one’s doctor may be necessary.

In certain cases, the courts can appoint a guardian or conservator. Remember, it is important that the least restrictive approach be taken, especially when the older person is still capable of some level of independence.

If an older person has been the victim of a financial scam, such as wire fraud, a Ponzi scheme or other fraudulent activity, contact your local police department. You can also submit an online incident report to the National Consumer League’s fraud information center ( or file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (1-877-FTC-HELP).

The biggest threats to older adults may come from financial exploitation, according to the FBI. Older people are vulnerable to frauds, scams, pickpockets, purse snatchers and thieves who steal checks from the mail. While it is not possible to avoid these crimes entirely, we can reduce their numbers by sharing prevention tips with our family members, friends and neighbors.

Talk with your loved ones about decision-making going forward rather than debating decisions already made. Letting them know you care about their health and well-being is a great way to start the conversation and take the first supportive steps that follow.

Patrick Arbore, Ed.D., is the founder and director of the Center for Elderly Suicide Prevention and Grief Related Services at San Francisco’s Institute on Aging. He also founded and directs the Friendship Line, a 24-hour help line for older adults coping with anxiety, grief and loneliness: 1-800-971-0016.

Adult Protective Services

Amador County                223-6550

Calaveras County            754-6452

Tuolumne County            533-5717

Mariposa County             966-7000

Alpine County                  530-694-2235

Stanislaus County           1-800-336-4316

Copyright © 2015 Friends and Neighbors Magazine
Patrick Arbore
By Patrick Arbore December 15, 2014 15:31
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