Elderly Parents and Scams & Con Artists

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Elderly father has been giving cash to a homeless woman

Jan 2012

dear community,

I need some constructive advice:

It has just come to light that my 88 y/o father has been giving cash to a homeless woman, ''CJ'', for over 10 years. Nobody has ever seen her, & we know very little, except that she is paranoid (thinks bus drivers are spying on her, etc.), & that she refuses to stay at a shelter (''with those bums'') or avail herself of any homeless services. CJ will call up Dad (who lives alone now, since Mom was just placed in dementia care) several times a month (?), & then he will drive to the ATM, pick up CJ near the bottom of University, & give her cash, & a ride to campus. If he doesn't come down, she will leave a scathing message on his answering machine (overheard a several times by my sister, & that's another story... ''it's dad's business''), backed by a chorus of guys yelling ''you tell 'im!''. By the sound of her voice, she seems to be speed-y.

He has always had a strong sense of Catholic charity, & he says better him than someone else who would not be able to afford it (but now that mom is in such expensive care, he can't for long! & he will have needs, himself. He's not wealthy.). He says it's an obligation he has taken on.

He thinks he's saving CJ, & doesn't understand that giving her cash (in the est. high 10K's, by now) is enabling her, & he only agreed to reconsider when we kids expressed how dangerous this seems. He said if we could find a place that he could donate to, that would support CJ *specifically*, that he would change his behavior. I think this is unlikely, given that CJ won't seek help (& why would she, if she's getting what she needs?), but he needs to hear it from a professional, not us. He is not 100% on board with it yet, though I think he wants a change.

It sounds like extortion, but it's not so clear-cut. The police said because he appears of sound mind (& he does, except for this - situational insanity?) it'll be hard to take a police report (& there's the fact that we don't even know her name/description). We're working on getting him to meet with a financial planner, & are watching for signs that control of his finances need to be taken away (though his trustee is my sister, who lives far away & has been part of the enabling).

I'm feeling ''tough love'', but think it will backfire. If we're too hardball, he could just go underground with it. We *want* to be gentle (yet firm) with him because he is quite depressed, about mom, & the all sad changes. This is also a painful realignment of family dynamics (& of course, we're already swamped with work & childrearing).

Where to seek advice? City of BK Mental Health, & Adult Protective Services were not very helpful.

thank you. wants to help dad

Your dad needs a new phone number. If CJ hasn't learned where he lives then a new phone number should do the trick to prevent her from contacting him again. There may be other ways you can have the calls forwarded to your cell so you can screen her out. $10,000 is crazy!!!! His driving down there is a risk of it's own. His bank may be able to set up withdrawal limits on his account to prevent a more serious theft of thousands in one day to CJ and her friends. If your dad can't grasp the seriousness of this then you need to control the purse strings. anon

Could you get your dad's priest to talk to him? Your dad may not listen to his daughters telling him to ignore this woman, but he will listen to the priest, who I am sure has had to say 'no' to lots of people just like this. It's tough, I know.

Consider: Remove his land-line and get him an unlisted cell number? Call Maurice Kamens LCSW in SF ( on Divisadero, I think). He works with families and addiction. He may be able to think of something. He works with families to learn about addiction. Do meet with the financial advisor so that he can learn the big picture of his spending. If the meeting is sobering, ask if he wants one of you kids to manage his bills. Consider meeting with a priest if you think that that might sway him. Consider taking him to 2-3 Alanon meetings and see if they help. JM

I think I know your dad. CJ/Claudia was sleeping in the doorway of the church for a while two years ago. She is a white woman who is somewhere between 50 and 60, I guess. She is clearly mentally ill and, I think, very scary. Many people used to complain about her when she was out on Shattuck. She used to yell and me and my kids as we walked to school. For a long time she would hang around the church waiting for the people to come out of 8 o'clock mass so she could get some money. I spoke with Father David (the parish priest)this morning about your situation. He tried to get her a shelter space in the past, but she would not go. She has not been in our neighborhood in a while. He thought that the parishoners were no longer giving her any money. I think that you should get your dad to change his phone number. He is such a nice man, he must think that he can help her. Maybe you can talk with him honestly about how you feel about him giving money to CJ. Maybe there is some sort of elder abuse resourse out there who could help. If there is some way that I can help, feel free to contact me.

Mom involved in Nigerian scam

August 2010

About 2 years ago, my mom became a victim of a Nigerian scam. She clicked on something on the Internet promising good pay for some check cashing scheme. After losing a small sum to that, she was mysteriously contacted by a ''legal firm'' in Nigeria (again on the Internet) that promised to get her money back plus a huge payment for her pain and suffering. Over the last two years, she has continued to send money to these people in spite of family intervention, visits from Social Services, calls from the FBI agents, and talks from a psychiatrist and her doctor. She has drained her life's savings, borrowed against her car and home, and taken out more money on her credit cards and quick payday loans. She has lost her car and her house is going into a foreclosure auction next week. A psychiatrist refused my request for a medical evaluation to be used for conservatorship. Until this day, she still believes that payout is coming. Now that she has only her social security money coming to her every month, she sends as much as she can to the scammers and then has little or nothing to live on. Has anyone been in a similar situation? Did you have to get conservatorship? Was the victim able to realize that it was a scam? I'm extremely stressed out over the situation and really want it to end. I'd appreciate any advice. Mentally Exhausted

There are lawyers who specialize in elder abuse. Contact one to see if they can help you get control of her money because she obviously cannot be in charge of her own finances. Anon

Most email systems have a facility for forwarding email. You could probably set up a system for intercepting email and vetting it before forwarding it back. Possibly without her even knowing. In an extreme case, you could probably, at least for the short term, modify the 419 emails to have her send the money to your account instead of theirs and put it somewhere safe. Obviously there's a deeper problem here, but this could be a short term solution to keep things in control. Contact me if you need technical advice.

You might try contacting an attorney who deals with elder abuse issues like Deb Graceffa of Gargalicana and Graceffa, 510-251-2000. Best of luck with a tough situation. Stephanie

Your mother is a victim of financial elder abuse, and if she will not agree to give you a power of attorney to manage her finances, you should consider legal remedies. If your mother is in California, the process is called a conservatorship. In other states it may be called an adult guardian ship.

The fact that her doctor was reluctant to sign a form indicating lack of capacity is not unusual, absent a court proceeding. However when you apply for the conservatorship there will be doctor's reports, and investigator's reports.

You need to talk to Legal Assistance for Seniors in Oakland ASAP. Their contact information is:
Legal Assistance for Seniors Primary Address: 614 Grand Ave Ste 400 City: Oakland State: CA Zipcode: 94610-3523 General Phone: 510-832-3040 Fax: 510-987-7399 Intake Phone: 510-832-3040 Counties Served: Alameda Case Types: Consumer, Domestic Violence, Elder Law, Health, Housing, Immigration, Public Benefits Other Case Types: Guardianship, Elder Law Conservatorship Case Restrictions: Must be 60 years of age or older.
Best of luck in this difficult situation. Lynn

What a nightmare for you and your family. Conservatorship is a very appropriate solution. The California probate code has provisions that speak to the need for protection if an elder is unable to resist fraud or undue influence. See http://law.onecle.com/california/probate/2952.html. And there are clinicians who can help even if your mom's psychiatrist will not. I suggest you contact the San Francisco Elder Abuse Forensic Center at 415.355.7002 for advice on where to turn. ld

After posting my reply to your question, I learned of a couple of other resources for you: For a clinician to provide the medical consultation you need for conservatorship, you might contact Dr. Elizabeth Landsverk of ElderConsult http://www.elderconsult.com/other.shtml Although her web page doesn't speak precisely to your problem, Dr. Landsverk works with the San Francisco Elder Abuse Forensic center and is well versed in issues of financial abuse and competency determination.

As your mother lives in Santa Clara County, you are probably aware of of the Santa Clara country Adult Protective Services Financial Abuse Specialist Team http://www.sccgov.org/ Perhaps they can direct you to someone who can provide legal assistance in obtaining conservatorship. ld

Editor note: see also /recommend/legal/elder.html#0810>Conservatorship for Mom

My Mother's worrisome new relationship

April 2008

Since February of 08, my 70 year-old mom has been nurturing an affair with a man she met at AA. As a result, she is leaving her emotionally abusive husband of 20 years. B.F. is also married, and plans to leave his wife. He told mom he is 61 years old, but she found out he is actually 50. He told her he ''forgot'' his real age or some such B.S. He's told her convoluted lies about his military service, which I have debunked via fact & chronology. He is a recent parole release from an assault conviction (this involved a knife). He has a ridiculous story about this as well. Mom sees him as the victim although admits that he is ''reckless''. She says he loves her ''madly.'' She says things like ''I cannot leave this man. It's out of my control.''

As to her ongoing drinking abuse, she says, ''Oh, I talked to him about it. I told him he has to monitor my drinking.'' This is potentially a volatile situation with a man who, himself, has alcohol abuse issues. She believes her drinking is more or less under control.

My mom has enough money to support herself frugally, but not enough to support anyone else. This guy is, she admits, ''crazy'' and physically ill. He works when he can, but is often on unemployment. Most of his money is taken for child support (for a 25 year old). A background check turns up three check fraud convictions in another State. Too little space precludes me from conveying so much more. Suffice it to say that I am worried sick.

She is moving into a small apartment, where presumably the B.F. will live as well, in a new part of town. In addition, she lives across the country from me and my brother, so has no family where she lives.

Obviously, I am very concerned. My question is, am I crazy? Does this situaiton sound crazy to anyone else? Can I do anything? I know that I cannot alter her path or change her mind, but also feel that she is placing herself at risk. I am very concerned about how she will end up, possibly require rescuing which neither my brother nor I can afford.

Any advice is deeply appreciated. Anon

I was in a different but related situation. The new ''married'' boyfirend not only took my mom for all that she was worth, but had her kiting checks and she accrued 200,000 in credit card debt.

I had a red flag about a year previous, but my mom lied to me and I was at a loss at how to deal with the situation. I only learned about the true desperateness of the situation when her bank called me.

Alas, I don't have any advice and I still worry about my mom. We came out ok, because my cousin is a lawyer and was able to negotiate with the credit card companies and the banks.

It's such a tricky issue because my mother was (and is) an independent adult. I do have some control over her finances now, but I worry that if it happened once, it could happen again. Anonymous

No you're not crazy at all. Sounds like you're doing all you can.

I'm not in AA but have a lot of people in my life who are. I know that having romantic relationships with AA is generally strongly discouraged. I believe people who hook up at AA are considered ''13th steppers''. I also know that in AA people have sponsors, does your mom have one? I'm not sure if it would be possible or would be appropriate for you to contact her sponsor directly but I wonder if you could get your mom to listen to her sponsor or people in the group who have some years of sobriety under their belt. Moreover I would suggest Al-Alon, Adult children of alcoholics. I would be extremely suprised if there weren't folks in al-alon who have encountered similar situations. You're not crazy.

Difficult situation. You can call Adult Protective Services in the county your mother resides and make an elder abuse report of undue influence on the BF. Even if she does not have dementia, because of her age and vulnerability, the report seems valid.

Second, I would recommend Al-anon for you. Alcoholics can drain you emotionally and financially, and sometimes there is nothing stopping the train crash, but at least you can get out of its way and save your self. It is really hard to let go, especially when it's your mom, and I am thinking you are not too unfamiliar with taking care of her for most of your life.

Good luck. There are great Al-Anon and ACA meetings in Berkeley. Anon

No you are not crazy. Your mother is irresponsible and is putting her life at risk by choosing a criminal. You are being a good daughter by pointing out to her the irrationality of her choice. I would tell her that her choosing a criminal jeopardizes her safety as well as yours. Tell her that she can do what she wants, but if she is going to move in with a criminal, you want no part of it. Even if that means not seeing her or allowing her to visit. You want to make it clear to her that there are lines that can't be crossed and this is one of them. Tell her that anyone else and you couldn't care less who she moved in with, but when it comes to being with a violent criminal, you will not stand for it. Then let it be. If she moves in with this criminal, you will take steps to protect yourself by limiting your contact to phone or mail. If she gets hurt, you know you did all you could do. Anon

We went through a simliar experience years ago w/my mom. Wish I had done some checking then. Long story short, younger man looks my mom up after 30 years. He'd been a teenage acne patient of my dad's (long deceased). He swooned my very lonely mother, telling her how much he had thought about her over the years. Mom was within 2 years of owning her home. He told her that she could refinance the house, pull some equity out, and he'd be able to start his dream business...well, once he had 35 grand in hand he skipped town. Mom was left w/a new mortgage she couldn't afford and almost lost her house (we all had to bail her out). Of course our mothers are grown, but sometimes people make bad decisions when they are sad Check this guy out and tell your Mom everything! been there

Sounds like a really bad situation and to get out of an unhealthy relationship she's getting herself into a worse one. If your mother can't see through this and there hasn't been any kind of actual crime committed by this guy to report to police, try reporting what's going on to the AA meeting people that hold their meetings. Or maybe since he's on parole you can report it to the police? It's worth a try. Or there has to be an agency where she lives that you can look up online to report elder abuse? Other than that, remember, what she ultimately chooses to do IS NOT YOUR FAULT. You are trying to help her, and some people just do not want help. Sometimes things are just out of your control. Amy

No, you do not sound crazy. You've done wonderful due diligence on your mother's behalf, including running a background check. This guy sounds bad.

I have written articles on Adult Protective Services, and given what I know from interviewing APS workers, they are probably your best bet. Call APS in your mother's area (look up ''social services'' online or in the phone book if you're stuck) and explain the situation. Tell them you are concerned that there is financial abuse of an elder occurring, and ask what they can do to help.

They may say that there isn't anything that they or you can do--as I've been told many times, we all have a right to folly. We have the right, as adults, to do stupid things, to blow our money and time on creepy partners, to screw up. Lord knows, I sure have. But if they think she is vulnerable due to dementia or other impairment, they may be able to do something. I think it's about your only option. I'm sorry you have to stand by and watch this happening. Good luck. Former folly-er

dear daughter of about to be very set up mom your first last and in-between priority must be yourself. You skimmed over the fact that your mother met this guy - who is OBVIOUSLY a TOTAL con, who will end up sponging off the wife AND your mom, sounds like someone to run SCREAMING from forever and ever and ever, the kind of guy who gives ALL males a bad name etc etc etc - that she met him at AA. ie: she's a working-hard-at-recovery abuser also . Which means you need to RUN, daughter, RUN to AlAnon or ANYTHING that will help you remember that your mother is HER problem, NOT yours. You go on your own million miles emotional journey (even if just round the block geographically) to separate from her, or you will continue to feed forever into her (all too understandable, no doubt) addiction cycles, be it the booze or the bozo. I have experienced, and believe in, the incredible power of role modelling over verbalizing. If you show HER that you love her enough to NOT give an ounce of energy to this OBVIOUS set up, then it might just give her the courage to heave it off her own victim-addicted shoulders. Thanks for reading all this. You earned and own YOUR life, no more, no less. sister in alcoholic relatives' cycles of victim-addiction

Unfortunately, your mother is an addict: she is addicted to alcohol, to emotionally abusive people and liars, and addicted to the manic highs of serious drama -- to the feeling that she can help him, to her eventual victimhood, and to the attention of everyone around her being worried, while she sighs that there is nothing she can do, she's just crazy in love.

From my own and other people's experience I have to be a pessimist and say there is nothing you can do at this particular point to help or protect her. She will shrug off warnings that she's headed for disaster (she's a member of A.A. who thinks she has her drinking ''under control'' -- you're either abstinent or you're not -- and that this guy will ''monitor'' her). She's in fantasyland and is having too much fun to leave.

Even if you and your brother threaten her that you won't help her when she does hit rock bottom, it won't do any good; she'll just tell you that's she'll be fine and can take care of herself.

The only thing you can do is protect yourself. Go to Al-anon for support (you probably already have) and refuse, REFUSE, to provide here with any material assitance that lets her prolong these sad choices. You can also tell her firmly and repeatedly that you can't listen to her stories about life with this man, or take calls from her if she is under the influence, etc. She feeds on the attention of all this drama.

* When * and * if * she accepts that her life is out of control and she wants and will use your emotional support and practical assistance, you can be there for her. You have to establish, clear, no-waffling rules that include that she have no contact whatsoever with this man; he is a bad drug for her like alcohol.

I'm sorry if all this sounds harsh, but this is the reality of living with an addict. You have to be strong and stand firm just like you would with an out-of-control child who thinks they know best and that putting a fork in an electrical outlet if fun.

A final thought: if this man is really much younger (and she is 70 +), and at some point gets involved in her financial life and causes problems there, perhaps there is some state agancy that could investigate this as elder abuse? Especially as she might be considered impaired due to her history. I don't know if that's the case or not.

This is a crazy-making situation but you are not crazy. You have my best wishes. Good luck