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Thursday, July 7, 2016

Financial Exploitation: Don't Become a Victim

It usually starts with a fender bender. You misjudged how far away the pole in the handicap parking space was and now there's a small dent in your front bumper. You're embarrassed, so you tell no one, not your family, not even the insurance company. It could happen to anyone, you say to yourself.

Then you bump into the front garage wall as you are parking. I was distracted; you say to yourself, I'll put down a brick to remind me where to stop. That will fix the problem. 

The next time you are on your way to the store, you almost get hit because you forgot to look both ways at that STOP sign near your house. Now, you get nervous every time you have to drive somewhere, so you start limiting your outings and take more back roads.

At your next Doctors visit, the Doc asks about your driving abilities and you say, I don't go out much. The Doc says, maybe it's time to give up driving? You say, you'll think about it. 

But how will you get to the store? Your children live elsewhere or are busy with their own lives, plus you don't want them to think you are old and feeble. You don't want to impose on friends or neighbors; so you look at the ads on the community bulletin board outside the grocery store. And boom, she has you. You are about to be financially exploited and you don't even have a clue.     

The first thing she does is try to be extra friendly. She will ask about your children, how often they come over, do they live nearby. The less they see of you, the happier she will be. She'll tell you about her family and how she took care of her Grandma or Grandpa and that's why she enjoys helping older people. She'll disable your car when you aren't looking, by pulling a wire or disconnecting the battery cable. When it won't start, she will say, don't worry about getting it fixed; I'll drive you anyplace you want to go.  

Soon, she will be calling you Grandpa or Auntie when you are out in public. She wants the checker at the grocery store and the bank teller to think she's family. Then she will start making snide comments about how little your own children care about you. 

She'll recommend people that she knows to cut your hair, mow your lawn or fix your leaky toilet. She'll distance you from everyone you used to know. Soon, every person you see is a friend of hers. She has slowly taken control of your life and you don't even realize it.

She may tell you that she knows a "better Doctor" for you to see. She'll help you fill out the forms, now she has your date of birth and social security number. She innocently says, why don't you put me down as your emergency contact? Your kids are too busy to deal with your problems, but I will always be here for you.

Then she'll take over dispensing your medicines, and add in a bunch of "vitamins." When you complain about feeling wobbly or confused, she'll offer to help you more and more. She may offer to move in to your home in case you fall at night.

Then she'll start complaining about how she is losing money from her other clients because she spends so much time with her favorite, you. She'll ask if she can borrow some money from you to pay her electric bill. Next it will be her rent. Then one of her children will be in an accident, and of course, she has no insurance. Then her car will need repairs and she can't use yours because it doesn't start. Soon you'll be giving her more and more. What other choice do you have? You need her, she has seen to that. Your address book has mysteriously disappeared and all the phone numbers on speed dial somehow got erased. 

She'll warn you not to answer the phone when she's not there. She'll say there are bad people out to get you or her. She doesn't want you blabbing to friends or family about her, so she'll tell you to keep your friendship a secret.  

She'll offer to get your mail, and help you write out checks. She'll bring her family over, and things will go missing. If you notice, she'll say it got broken or she'll say, don't you remember giving that to my son for his birthday? 

She will target the accounts that are in your name only. She's afraid to touch the others because she can't be sure the other person listed isn't getting duplicate statements. During inclement weather, she'll offer to go to the store or bank for you. She will tell the clerk, its okay, I'm family and you aren't feeling well. 

She will offer to update the info on your bank accounts, life insurance policies and everything else she can think of. She will make sure you are confused, and ask you to sign blank forms. Then she will change the beneficiary to her name. She's a master thief. 

If you are lucky, she'll disappear when everything is gone. If you aren't lucky, she may figure out a way for you to accidentally slip and drown in your bathtub.

Please, don't become a victim. If you live by yourself and need help, get it through an accredited agency. Let your family members know what is going on. Add a second trusted person to all your financial accounts and ask the companies to send duplicate statements to the other person. Ask your friends and neighbors for help. Most will be glad to drive you to the store or Doctors office. If you are embarrassed to ask, think of how much more embarrassed you will be when every penny you had is gone? These criminals know who to target.   

I know exactly how these thieves work because my Dad was a victim. She did all of the above. When I confronted her, she bragged about how she'd done it before and gotten away with it. The only financial account she didn't touch was the one with MY name on it. My Dad had added my name after my Mom died. Nothing she took was recovered, by the time I figured out everything she'd done, she had disappeared. My Dad was too confused to remember whether he had signed stuff or not and without his testimony, there was nothing that could be done. I used she in my story, but there are men thieves out there, too.

How did I know something was wrong? My Dad offered to fly out to visit me. She did not want me coming back home. She didn't know that my Dad absolutely hated to fly. As soon as he suggested it, I knew something was terribly wrong. 

If you suspect a family member, neighbor, or even one of your customers is being exploited, please REPORT IT! Search for "Adult Protective Services" or "Elder Abuse" online and make a phone call. In most cases, you can remain anonymous. You may save someone's dignity and maybe their life. 

Afterwards, I had bank tellers, neighbors and grocery store clerks tell me they thought something strange was going on. One bank teller told his supervisor about his suspicions, but no one reported it. Don't become a victim. Let's all watch out for each other.