She had been living in a gated retirement community in a condominium that she purchased after my father’s death. Shortly after moving there, she stopped driving and gave up her car, but remained quite independent. She regularly took a bus to the grocery store and to do her other errands. She was quite involved in the retirement community activities, had quite a few friends who also lived in the community and nearby, and was quite happy. Everything seemed to be fine until I started to notice that she was anxious and worried about money. One day, she said that she didn’t have any money in her checking account and needed to move money from her savings account. That revelation was the beginning of quite a journey!
We lived about two hours from one another and didn’t see each other regularly but spoke on the phone quite often. The conversations regarding her concerns about money had become so frequent, and her recent revelation about no money being in her checking account was so worrying, that I decided to visit to see if I would get more information face to face.
When I arrived, we went to lunch and after a while she told me that money was missing from her checking account and she was worried. She was also very embarrassed and concerned that she was bothering me. I suggested that we go to her bank and see if we could get to the bottom of what was going on.
We spoke to a really nice, helpful young banker who said that he was really glad that my mother had confided in me because he had been doing his best to help her but couldn’t figure out what was going on. He had closed her account and opened new accounts at least twice and she still kept having issues with money disappearing from her account. She had moved so much over from savings that her savings account was almost drained. This had been going on for quite some time. He agreed to close that account and open another, and suggested to her that she put me on the account as well. I was co trustee of her trust so that made sense and in the long run being a co trustee turned out to be quite useful. It wasn’t having a power of attorney, so that I made decisions on her behalf; it allowed us to make decisions together so she felt like she still had a say in her finances and I wasn’t taking over and she was happy with that.
What eventually became apparent upon further investigation was that somehow someone had access to her account and was submitting electronic checks through her account in her name withdrawing money. That was how the money was disappearing. When the banker and I figured this out, I went to the local police department and talked to their fraud detectives. I was told that it was a common scam. They said the only way I could do anything was to go to the bank on the electronic checks in the town that the electronic account was set up in and complain-- but all that would happen was that I would tip off whoever was doing it, the account would be closed and another account set up in another small town bank, and it just would go on. I didn’t have any way of tracing who was doing this except through that account and it was set up fraudulently and would be closed immediately.
What was worrying was that even after the new account was opened, with me as the co trustee, this was happening and I didn’t understand how the fraudsters were getting the new account information. What I came to discover is that when the old account was closed, the fraudster would call my mother, saying he was from her bank and asking her to verify her account information which she did, giving him the new information, and that is how the fraud continued even when the accounts were closed. I was very worried that the person had her phone number, probably knew where she lived, and was continuing to access her money.
In the end, I convinced her to change her phone number, close the old and open another new account, and this time agree to let me have her checkbook and pay her bills so I had all her bills come to me, and to just use one credit card and cash that I gave her every week. I also convinced her to move to an assisted living facility, because at the same time I was noticing that she wasn’t eating very much because she no longer wanted to cook for herself so the idea of someone else making her meals appealed to her and it all worked out!
It is very scary when you realize that someone has access to your loved one and they are taking advantage.
Please keep this in mind when weighing your parent living independently or not. We often don’t really know what our loved ones are doing, with whom they are interacting and they don’t want to bother us, burden us, worry us, or might be embarrassed to tell us for some reason. Please ask questions. It will keep them safe!
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