My in-laws are almost 80 years old. They have repeatedly been taken advantage of online. As examples, they lost $70,000 over three years to a fraudulent scheme in a poor foreign country, and $40,000 to a hardly legal “give us your money and we’ll send you a link on how to flip houses” scheme.
After our surprise at finding this out, they no longer share any information about who they are sending checks to. They claimed they researched each situation, but still lost a large amount of money. Is there anything we can do legally to help them make money decisions that appear to be related to cognitive decline or ignorance of today’s more sophisticated thieves?
It’s well documented that older people are both more susceptible to fraud than those who are younger and they are more likely to have assets after a lifetime of work and saving. As a result, they have become targets of many swindlers, both in the United States and from foreign countries. Further, once they’ve lost their savings, it’s usually impossible for them to make it back since they’re likely to have left the workforce years earlier.
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There are many ways to prevent this fraud, including shared accounts and trusts, if individuals are willing to accept the protection. But it can be very difficult if they are unwilling to accept help, as appears to be the case with your in-laws. We’re all free to make our own mistakes. It can be difficult for many people to give up control and some people, like your in-laws, become defensive if their judgment is challenged.
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The only protection the law provides is the appointment of a conservator to step in to take over the finances of an impaired individual. But this requires a showing that the individual is cognitively incapacitated. It does not appear that your in-laws have crossed this threshold given that your father-in-law is still working professionally.
I think your best bet at this time is to continue gently to try to make your in-laws aware of what is going on. It may be helpful to send them articles about fraudulent cases as you come across them. I would also send them the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s pamphlet, Money Smart for Older Adults Resource Guide. It may help your in-laws to know that they are in good company.
Read: The sad truth about who is abusing older adults the most
Finally, while most people don’t want to give up control while they’re perfectly competent and very few people can picture themselves losing capacity, it’s a risk for all of us as we get older. Trusts are a terrific tool for people to maintain control while they have capacity, but to have a structure in place in the form of a co-trustee to step in when needed.