fraudsters take advantage of people’s trust

Home improvement scams requiring significant expenditure are also quite common. Fraudsters present themselves as well-educated, caring individuals. They are well dressed, suave, and persuasive. They build up a relationship quickly with the elderly victims to gain their trust. They present themselves as experts, use first names, and tell their victims that they have been in the area doing some work. They promise to do the work cheaply. The abusers are experts in persuading elderly people that their house needs repair, but then they do shoddy and incomplete work. Joe Roubiceck’s stories show that some victims are so mentally impaired they fail to remember signing cheques for so-called home improvements. Elderly women living alone are prime targets for these abusers, because they are often lonely and unaware of being duped and swindled.
Families may be unaware that their elderly members are suffering financial abuse. Despite visiting my mother every week for years, I had no idea that she was becoming destitute. When I discovered that she had no money in her handbag, I assumed that she was concealing her money somewhere in the house. At that stage, her mental powers were failing. Eventually someone told me what was happening.
We may not think that it can happen to us, so it is important to be aware of potential financial abuse of our elderly relatives, especially if they are failing mentally. We must visit them regularly and actively protect them. We may notice unpaid bills or the disappearance of valuable possessions. We can get their permission to check their bank accounts for withdrawal of large sums of money. We can examine signatures on cheques or other papers that look suspicious, or find out why additional names appear on their accounts or credit cards. We may have to investigate why bank statements are no longer being sent to the older person’s home, or discover who is withdrawing money from ATMs, when the elderly person cannot get to the bank. If we notice that a second mortgage has been taken out in the elderly person’s name, or if there has been a change in financial routines, we should investigate. We might notice sudden changes in a will or financial document. Constant contact through visits and telephone calls can protect our elderly relatives.
Unnecessary home repairs or physical changes in our elderly family members are obvious signs of subversive abuse. We may notice they are becoming unkempt or their hygiene has deteriorated. We should pay attention to changes in their behaviour such as fear, shame, or depression, or other signs such as confusion, anger, helplessness, and secretiveness. Older adults who have not lost the power of rational thinking can take certain measures to prevent financial abuse. They can join social groups and stay in constant contact with trusted relatives. They should deposit money in a bank rather than conceal it in their home. Reliable family members can hold valuable documents, and examine papers elderly relatives are asked to sign. Older people can also look to their lawyer, their clergyman, and social services for advice and support. Above all, it is important to anticipate the time when they may become utterly vulnerable as they enter very old age, by arranging for trusted relatives to help them when they need to withdraw money or collect their pension.

Adapted from Jim O’Shea’s book Abuse. Domestic Violence, Workplace and School Bullying published by Cork University Press

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