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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Helping Elderly Parents Avoid (Tzedakah) Scams

I received an email from a reader that brings up a very important and relevant subject for anyone who has aging or elderly parents or grandparents (who are showing signs of vulnerability). That subject is how to help the elderly avoid scams, particularly tzedakah scams, while still allowing that parent to maintain charge of their own finances. The reader writes the following, slightly edited for privacy:

Dear Orthonomics,

How do I keep my [elderly and trusting parent], who is mentally competent and in charge of personal finances from being taken advantage of by shifty charities? I have asked my [sibling who lives closer] to keep an eye on the mail [give our parent only the mail from] tzedakah organization[s] and medical charit[ies] that are legitimate.

However, I'd like to get [my parent] off these charity mailing lists. Do you have any knowledge of how to do this? Do I write to each individual charity? How do I keep my mother from being taken advantage of financially by these solicitations?

Dear Reader,

Note: Please only consider doing anything IF there are signs of vulnerability. I have family members who are well into their years that are highly capable of taking care of themselves and I have family members and clients that are sadly vulnerable, even where still competent. I'm only presenting some ideas where vulnerability is showing.

I really wish I had an answer to your question because if I did, I wouldn't be enduring continuous phone calls from nine in the morning until nine in the evening, oftentimes from shifty telemarketers who make false claims, to say nothing of mounds of junk mail. I don't personal receive much foot traffic from meshulachim, but this is also an area of concern that should be addressed. Hence, I'd like to hear reader tips and will publish helpful advice, bli neder.

In terms of phone calls, which you don't address, but are nonetheless commonplace, I think it wise that when you or a sibling visit that you intercept phone calls and ask that your parent be removed from the calling list. Just about two weeks ago when another tzedakah I'd never heard of called claiming I had made a donation last year, I told the telemarketer that I needed to be removed from their calling list immediately. I don't know if that is why my phone traffic has died down significantly, but it has and it has given me back a lot of our space. I don't want to hold up the "Mission Accomplished" banner too soon, so I will have to report back after the close of the calendar year. Many charitable telemarketers can be very high pressure and deceptive. The latest technique I've noticed is when someone calls as a Rabbi asking for you, which engenders trust and the introduction makes it sound as if he knows you personally. I think it is best to attempt to slow the phone traffic if at all possible. (I've been trying to slow the phone traffic so that we can enjoy dinner almost uninteruppted).

Regarding junk mail removal, offers some tips and "do nots." I'd recommend performing this service for your parent. (But first, readers, have you used the Direct Mail removal service? Has it worked or backfired?) I feel a slight bit "deceptive" even suggesting taking matters into your own hands and performing this service for an elderly parent or neighbor, but scamming is big business. Protecting the dignity and future of our aging parents is important, and unfortunately dealing with some of these agencies is a menu for trouble, so best to engage in a bit of avoidance. Dealing with elderly and trusting parents is a bit of a tightrope act, and I do suggest gentle communication about an approach to giving as even a $5 check to a solicitor will beget more solicitations. Being selective is a must and developing an open relationship that does not threaten, but attempts to educate where need be is also important.

Foot traffic is a bit more difficult to deal with. Recently my own neighborhood has had meshulachim coming door-to-door well past (normative child) bedtime hours. This is an intimidating situation and it might help to gather the troops to make sure that when visits are being paid in the neighborhood, they are not being paid to all (including others who are vulnerable such as a mother who is home alone). I have noticed that there are some families and widow(er)s that are not listed in any comprehensive kehilla list. Removing addresses from shul directories, and especially comprehensive kehilla listings is probably worthwhile.

Beyond the tzedakah/charity solicitations, you bring up a very important subject regarding the elderly and their finances. It is imperative to help our trusting parents and grandparents avoid scams. Unfortunately, scams are everywhere and it isn't unheard of for family members that are supposed to help, to slowly drain an elderly parent. I'd like to continue to do more research into scam avoidance and continue to publish posts on such. Thanks for being the second (!) person this week to email me about scams.



Shoshana Z. said...

This link looks like it has a lot of very helpful ideas.

ProfK said...

Do you have a parent or grandparent with obvious signs of mental incompetence or deteriorating mental faculties? If you believe this to be the case, get yourself to a lawyer and find out about how you can become a steward of that person's affairs. An investigation may be done by a government agency, and if the person under investigation is shown to need help, a child may be appointed to that position or some other competent authority will be. Beyond that, I object totally and completely to any interference on the part of children with their parents' lives. I certainly don't condone underhanded, sneaky things like looking through their mail or answering their phones instead of them.

You want to talk to your parents about how scamming is on the rise and the signs to look for? Okay, but talk only. You want to ask them if they are being bothered by too many solicitation calls or letters? Fine, and if you have a practical solution you can tell them about it. But taking unilateral action without their knowledge? No way, no how.

Turning 60 is not an excuse for the parent-child relationship to be suddenly turned on its head. Older and aging are not synonomous with losing your mind or losing the ability to handle your own business matters. There are plenty of oldsters whose business acumen is far stronger than their children's ever will be.

For the most part, I have to wonder just what these younger children are so worried about--losing some of their yerushah perhaps?

tesyaa said...

Our local police blotter publishes instances of scams attempted and/or perpetrated against local residents. 99% of the times these are against older residents (70+). Older residents are targeted more frequently, and they may be more trusting, even if they are not mentally incompetent. Some older people are more vulnerable to scams involving technology, since they are less familiar with the methods. It doesn't hurt to make an attempt to protect older people, without taking away their independence and decisionmaking ability.

Orthonomics said...

, get yourself to a lawyer and find out about how you can become a steward of that person's affairs.

Getting a conservatorship under the law is very difficult. A person can be legally be mentally competent and still highly vulnerable.

Older and aging are not synonomous with losing your mind or losing the ability to handle your own business matters.

Statistically speaking, older people are more vulnerable and are scammed far more often.

For the most part, I have to wonder just what these younger children are so worried about--losing some of their yerushah perhaps?

I can't speak for anyone else, but we don't need a yerusha. But, if the worst were to happen (and it isn't unheard of), we'd be up a creek.

A Fan said...

My grandparents almost lost their house because a nice, sleek, bank guy got them to take a 'reverse mortgage'. They're not that old, and certainly not incompetent, but they got sucked into something they couldn't handle. Result? My mom is now supporting my grandparents. Sure, she can afford it. But what if she couldn't? Also, all that money she's spending to keep a roof over her parents' heads, that's money lost forever, that will never go toward her own retirement (she's in her early 50s, it's not terribly far off) or toward my brother's college education, or to put away a little something for her own grandchildren. Yerusha is the least of my mother's problems right now.

ProfK said...

"Statistically speaking, older people are more vulnerable and are scammed far more often."

Yes, the figures bear that out.
But the figures also tell us " the sad truth is that 60% of all financial crimes against senior citizens are done by their adult children, according to the The National Elder Abuse Incidence Study. Second on the list are in home providers." The very people who are being suggested as keeping an eye on their parents' finances are, in 6 out of 10 cases, the perpetrators of the crime.

"Getting a conservatorship under the law is very difficult." Yes, you are right. And one of the reasons it is difficult is precisely because the legal system is worried about children who have nefarious intent towards their parents. It's difficult, but not impossible.

Orthonomics said...

Just a note:

I noted in this post that family members do drain their parents. It is extremely common and, while I don't like to cast a shadow over anyone, in the post after this one I specifically mention that as a warning sign.

More to explore on this subject and I appreciate your comments greatly. A word of advice to anyone who does become responsible for finances of parents: make sure that records are maintained for every transaction and that funds are never co-mingled.

rosie said...

I noticed that phone calls that just come up as New York call or New Jersey call are solicitors. Usually if the phone is allowed to continue to ring, it will ring 10 or 12 times. If I attempt to call the number back, it will not work. They get our phone number from the women's league directory but our phone book number rings to our fax machine and we never answer that. Maybe there is a way that the family can block certain calls or give the elderly parents an unlisted number that only family and friends have access to.

Anonymous said...

My elderly mother was recently taken for over $1000 by a so-called rabbi raising money for a yeshiva. Shanda!! It turned out he was orthodox and he was a Rabbi, but the Yeshiva in question did not exist. Double Shanda!!

Anonymous said...

My elderly mother was recently taken for over $1000 by a so-called rabbi raising money for a yeshiva. Shanda!! It turned out he was orthodox and he was a Rabbi, but the Yeshiva in question did not exist. Double Shanda!!

Avi said...

I'm surprised none of your super shoppers have come up with this idea already, but I suggest creating a tzedaka "shopping" list, and if it isn't on the list, don't buy it! We are big believers in tzedaka and ma'aser - and as we have shown responsibility with HKB"H's money, He has given us more to manage (win win!). But we prefer our tzedaka dollars to have an appreciable impact, and one way to do that is to create a list of intended tzedakas each year, and pre-allocate (bli neder) what percentage is going where. We generally don't give $18 donations to anyone, and we don't give any money at all to random tzedaka collectors or mailers or callers. Therefore, we do not get many random tzedaka collectors or mailers or callers, since they all sell names/addresses to each other. (We do give a fair amount of money to local Rabbi's Discretionary Funds, so we are contributing to unexpected causes through that mechanism, but the onus is on the Rabbi to investigate the claims to ensure against fraud. And if they swindle the Rabbi... that I can't worry about.)

Anonymous said...

I wrote the original letter to Orthonomics. Thank you, Sephardi Lady, for printing it and for your careful editing.

Good news. Prof. K, my mother is not 60 - she is in her 80's, a vulnerable stage of life. I AM interested in the yerusha, but not for myself since I am comfortable, but rather after meah v'esrim for my sisters who cannot find work. I am also interested in my mother not being taken financial advantage of. I researched one of the medical charities she gave $10 to and found out it was not exactly a scam, but close to it. I called my mother and gently explained to her that I had researched the charity on the Internet and it was not well rated. My mother said, "You mean I threw out $10. I didn't know you could research charities. Could you look up the American Lung Association?" I told my mother - "I'm coming on Chanukah, please put all the envelopes [soliciting money] in a bag and I will take them with me and go through them and tell you which are legitimate." So I think the problem will be solved by my intervention. My mother understands now that it's necessary to research tzedakas, and by my keeping an eye on things, I will be able to help my mother. I would appreciate if anyone knows how to remove your name from mailing lists.

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