Vulnerable Elders: Scams and Fake Friends

  • As a newspaper columnist on elder care issues, I get quite a bit of mail and many e-mails asking questions. One that came last week prodded me to bring the problem to this site (names and details changed).


    "Dear Carol: My aging grandmother has become hostile and irrational in recent years. Now her housekeeper is taking advantage of her money. Grandma is emotionally attached this woman. The rest of my family has deserted Grandma because she is so difficult, so this makes her even more dependent on her housekeeper's company. My father tries to handle the situation, but he is too ignorant and afraid to do the right thing. What can I do?  Amanda."

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    My answer to Amanda went something like this:


    "Dear Amanda: This is upsetting and unfortunately quite common. Your grandmother depends on this person and will do most anything to keep that relationship. My grandmother had a similar situation with a woman who'd been kind to her, but ended up taking advantage of my gentle grandmother as time went on.


    Depending on the degree of scamming and how involved you wish to get, you can see an elder law attorney, or even the police. However, for the police to do anything, you'd need proof of ill will, and that is often hard to get.


    You may want to check with an elder law attorney and see if any steps can be taken. If your mother has Power Of Attorney over your grandmother's finances, it will be easier to handle. If not, in reality, your grandmother is free to do as she chooses - heartbreaking as that is to watch. Even with a POA, your mother would have limited say.


    I would encourage a consultation. Many attorneys will do this free  or for low cost. You could go to The National Academy of Elder Law Attorney's site for more information. Good luck, Carol."


    As I answered this note from Amanda, I wondered how many readers on could relate. My guess is quite a few. The complicatons with these situations are many.


    Sometimes family can over react. The elder is grateful for the company and help of a neighbor or employee and naturally wants to do something special in return. If the elder is not financially poor, then that is fine, if these gifts aren't extravagant. Being able to pay back something for their help can give the elder some back a feeling of dignity. Also, it just feels good to give and some elders have little to give them pleasure.


    Of course, if the "helper" is tricking or coercing the elder, or even, as can happen, forging checks or stealing money from wallets, that is out and out crime. However, the elder handing over a $20 "tip" is not a bad thing, if the elder wants to do this and is not too poor to spare the money.


    Guilt and greed from family members can enter into this, which can muddy the waters still more. If there are dysfunctional relationships within the family, so  much so that the family doesn't want to take any responsibility for the elder, but they suddenly get interested when they see money they could inherit go to someone helpful, things can get ugly. One has to look at their motives.


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    I don't get this vibe from Amanda. I think she genuinely feels her grandmother is being taken advantage of and she wants to help. That's why I suggested an elder law attorney. Amanda and her father need to sort this out and make sure they are standing on solid ground before trying to do too much. Even if Amanda's father has Power Of Attorney, the grandmother still controls her money as long as she can speak for herself. It's her money and her life.


    Yet she is vulnerable. This is a sticky situation. An elder law attorney should be very helpful here, but even an outside opinion from a spiritual leader or close neighbor who has observed what is going on in the grandmother's house could give the family some feel for the truth. This letter tugs at my heart. I hope Amanda, and others like her, can find the right people to help find out the what is actually happening here.


    For more information about Carol go to or  


Published On: July 02, 2010