Every year, at least $36 Billion is reportedly taken from older Americans, according to the National Council on Aging. The largest segment is “Exploitation” — when businesses, individuals, or charities use pressure tactics or misleading language to lead seniors into financial mistakes. My parents were prayed upon, and the source of the fraud was surprising.
When my parents still lived in their home, they signed two agreements for the same work — one was for a few hundred, and the second was for $5,200. Thankfully, my mom sensed something was wrong and called my sister. I lived near mom and dad so could stop by and found the two contracts for the same work — one that was horrifically over-priced. We were able to cancel the outrageous contract, but I should have also called the police, Adult Protective Services, and the Better Business Bureau. We were so stunned at the time that 1) they could victims of horrible people; 2) thankful we caught it in time that I never circled back to work with the systems in place that could help protect others from this same crime.
The Washington Post carried a story that detailed the depth of the crimes against three local seniors. They were robbed of more than $100,000 by what our local police call “woodchucks”. They start by offering to trim trees, and if they do return after you have given them a deposit, they usually find a host of other issues to repair. Most of the work is either not needed (roof tile or chimney repair that you can’t see), is done poorly, or never completed.
Holding that checkbook is for many, the last item in helping them feel control over their world. When I started to notice that my parents were writing weekly checks to a variety of charities I had never heard of, my antennae went up. If you read the letters, they are written to make the recipient believe they have already promised a donation. It can be hard to get a handle on this since it feels good to give. However, sometimes it can get out of control.
As a daily money manager, I helped one client who was giving over $2,000 a month to a host of charities she doesn’t even believe in because of the letters and calls coming into her home. He son asked her to keep the donations to under $30, which she did. However, she was writing checks and giving her credit card out nearly 100 times every month.
When we started working on bill pay together, I was able to show her how much money she was giving away and it surprised her. When we started to go through the mail and discussed the charities, she realized she didn’t know what they did or even believe in the mission. After taking these steps, it was easy for her to realize that she needed to reconsider her giving and we came up with a good solution for her.
If you are worried about this with your loved one, start slow. Work in tandem to get a handle on the charitable giving — tax season is a great time to do this. Create a list of the key charities of interest and suggest that you review all of the others at the end of the year.
Money is always a difficult topic in families. If you don’t live near your loved one, or do and think it might be better for a third-party to help, I suggest you consider finding a local daily money manager to help you.