DEAR ABBY: I read with interest the letter from "Worried Sick in Alabama," whose mother was about to give money to a known con man. The same thing happened to my mother, who didn't stop "lending" money until $67,000 was gone.
The district attorney, two police departments and an attorney who specializes in elder issues sympathized with me, but no one could do anything. They told me, in effect, that as long as people are mentally competent, they can do whatever they want with their own money. Trusting, naive and misguided do not constitute incompetence.
Finally, I hired a private detective who found pending felony theft charges and other incriminating facts about the guy who was conning my mother. I believe she was persuaded more by the fact I hired a private detective than by what he dug up. She did quit writing checks, but I live in constant fear that some other con artist will find her.
I encourage "Worried" to find some way to invest her mother's money so that Mom won't have instant access to it. If possible, she should be convinced to let her daughter pay her bills for her, and set up a checking account where two signatures are required.
This is a difficult and, I suspect, widespread problem. I don't know what the answer is, because it includes issues of dignity and self-worth, as well as independence. I know elderly people who have lost their good judgment, and will lose their ability to pay their own way because of it. -- STILL WORRIED IN ALABAMA
DEAR STILL WORRIED: Perhaps the next letter will ease your mind. Read on:
DEAR ABBY: We at the National Center on Elder Abuse read the tragic letter from "Worried Sick in Alabama." Sadly, her story illustrates how financial crimes pose a growing threat to the well-being and independence of our "greatest generation."
It is cause for concern when a senior grants unusual access or control of his or her assets to another person in suspicious circumstances. A challenge in detecting this is that victims may be reluctant to reveal financial abuse or accuse their abuser out of fear of retaliation or losing their independence. They may also feel embarrassed or reluctant to get the perpetrator in trouble.
In addition to consulting an attorney and contacting law enforcement, our advice is to report concerns to Adult Protective Services, the long-term care ombudsman or the state attorney general's office. Call the Eldercare Locator, a public service of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration of Aging, at (800) 677-1116 (Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. EST) to quickly find the numbers of your local agencies. To learn more about how to prevent, recognize or respond to elder abuse, neglect or exploitation, please visit our Web site at www.elderabusecenter.org.
Thank you, Abby, for helping millions of American seniors with your informative and sensitive advice. -- AMY HANLEY, NATIONAL CENTER ON ELDER ABUSE
DEAR AMY: Thank you for a helpful letter; you will never know how many people you have helped today. It breaks my heart that these services are necessary, but I'm grateful that you are there to protect vulnerable seniors from predators.