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A little bell went off in my head as I sat staring at the wire transfer request on my computer screen. I was excited to accept the speaking invitation from what looked like a prestigious group in England. They’d reached out to me and given all the appropriate responses to my questions, and the contact person also checked out online. The last step was for me to wire a reimbursable fee for my visa. Minutes away from providing my bank information, I stopped and made a phone call. Something didn’t feel quite right.
I think of myself as a savvy person, and yet I was amazed at how swiftly I’d almost been sucked into this online money scam. As schemes become more sophisticated, it’s increasingly difficult for caregivers to be on the lookout for fraud and protect their family and loved ones. This is a greater challenge for caregivers of loved ones with cognitive decline, especially if they don’t live in the same house or town.
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The pain of romance scams
Some of the hardest and most painful scams for families are the ones involving romance, where people use fake identities to prey on lonely and isolated people. The contact usually begins through social media, with a barrage of flattering and attentive overtures that lead to frequent conversation. A relationship is established, and then at some point the scammer asks for money. There is always an excuse, a reason why the con artists can’t access their own funds, like a problem with a visa or a plane ticket. COVID-19 exacerbated the problem further. Not only were victims isolated by the pandemic, but the person running the scam had a “legitimate” excuse as to why they couldn’t travel to see the victim in person.
“Part of what makes these scams hard for caregivers is that the victims come from a generation typically raised to be private and taught to be kind and polite,” says Amy Nofziger, who is the director of Fraud Victim Support and oversees the AARP Fraud Watch Network’s free helpline, at 877-908-3360. “They feel compelled to answer the doorbell, provide information when an authority figure requests it and feel uncomfortable hanging up on someone.”
Add to that the fact that many victims have recently lost a spouse and now have more time on their hands. Many spouses who’ve devoted the past few years to caring for that loved one see this phase as their last chance for true love and happiness.
A cautionary tale
Bill* lost his father two years ago to cancer; his mother, Alice*, 81, of Kansas, had been her husband’s full-time caregiver. After the funeral, Bill and his wife, Carol*, stayed in Kansas to help Alice get on her feet and organize her financial affairs. As a precaution, Bill added himself as an authorized user to her bank accounts, since the family business was in a trust and producing income.