When a Loved One With Dementia Gets Scammed

Is a loved one with dementia getting scammed?

Does this sound familiar? Dad gets multiple requests a day for donations, as well as "special offers" to purchase the deal of the century. While you're over visiting, you notice that the phone rings and someone makes a plea for him to help the children with cancer. His mail contains appeals to help feed the hungry by donating money, as well as notifications that he won the sweepstakes and just has to pay a small fee to cover the taxes. He watches the television and turns to the home shopping network or listens to the televangelist, both of whom assured him that the purchase of this amazing shirt is a wise choice, or that his donation will be completely used to make a difference.

An elderly man looking for some change from his wallet
Thanasis Zovoilis / Getty Images

You go over to help clean his house and you begin to realize that, in his confusion, Dad has been giving money away or spending it foolishly. You notice unpaid bills, mixed in with several donor and purchase receipts laying on the table. You also see a stack of packages in the corner and when you go over to look at them, you see that he has ordered five of the same shirts.

The Realization

You come to the conclusion that your Dad, who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's and is in the early stages, is literally giving away hundreds or even thousands of dollars. His typical personality has always been to be frugal with his money, but now he seems to be going through money like it's water.

So, what can you do about this? Here are a few options.

Talk to Him

Tell him you what a great example he has always been and how he's used his money wisely (but only if that's true). Ask him if he needs help with organizing and paying the bills. Explain your concern and show him his bank balance.

Ask Someone Else to Talk With Him

Ask the family member he respects the most to talk with him. Ask the pastor, priest, other clergy member or attorney to speak with him.

You know how it can be. Sometimes, there's one family member who can get away with saying things that the others can't, somehow without offending your dad. Ask her to visit him and talk to him about her concerns.

Contact the Groups Who Are Asking for Money

Take note of the organizations and individuals from whom he's being asked for money and contact them to remove him from their mailing list. This may be effective the first time you ask; unfortunately, many people and groups are persistent and you may need to repeat this directly to them.

Register Him on the Do Not Call registry.

Make sure his phone number is listed on the Do Not Call registry. You can do this by calling 1(888)-382-1222. For teletype, call 1(866)-290-4236. Make sure you call from the number that you want to be protected.

Assist With the Bills

Help your dad by setting up automatic payments for bills that are due on a regular basis.

Work Together to Identify Organizations He Would Like to Support

Ask your dad which specific groups to whom he would like to donate money, and see if he would be willing to work together to develop a plan for how to do that. Of course, it's possible that he may not be willing to discuss this, but if he is, you can reassure him that he will automatically send a contribution to them by arranging this online.

Sort His Mail

Offer to assist your dad by sorting through his mail to protect him from scams.

Set up a Post Office Box for His Mail

Some people have arranged a post office box for their family member's mail so that they can eliminate the solicitations.

Consider Changing His Phone Number

This is not ideal, but it may be necessary if the phone is the primary way your dad is being scammed out of his money.

Limit Access to Credit Cards and Checkbooks

Some family members have limited their loved one's access to his charge cards or checks. You could discuss this with him and arrange to give him some cash on a regular basis.

Become His Durable Power of Attorney

Ask him if he will agree to have you serve as his durable power of attorney for finances. You can reassure him that he can set the arrangement up in a way that protects him. For example, he could designate you and your sibling both as power of attorneys. Or, he could involve a trusted third party in this decision.

Designating a durable power of attorney for finances is an important step in order to be prepared for unexpected changes. Ideally, this decision is made prior to the onset of dementia, but some people are unaware of, or resistant to, this idea.

What If Nothing Works?

Maybe you've tried most of these strategies with no results. Your dad continues to deny that there is a problem, yet he continues to be preyed upon by scammers and con artists.

You may need to consult an elder law attorney at this point to determine how best you can help your dad. They could advise you on matters such as if your dad could be determined in court to be incompetent to make decisions, and perhaps assist you then with acquiring the role of guardian or conservator.

Financial Abuse

Finally, a note about elder abuse. Taking advantage of someone by misusing their money or property is considered financial abuse. You may need to contact the local Adult Protective Services organization and the police if there is an individual who is committing this crime against your loved one.

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