Let me preface this by saying I know Mom needs to go get evaluated by a doctor, so I'm not looking for any kind of definitive diagnosis here. But my sister and I are in complete disagreement as to whether or not this incident is an indication of increased cognitive impairment. She thinks there are other reasons for what happened. I think it's an early sign of dementia. I would love other opinions.
So, a little background: Mom is 76, and while she's always been a bit scattered and ditzy, she has not (until this latest incident) shown any signs of cognitive decline beyond what could be construed as normal age-related forgetfulness. Yes, she struggles to find words sometimes, yes she repeats herself, yes she forgets things, but nothing startling. She's never gotten lost someplace where she should have known where she was, never forgotten someone's name that she knew, or thought she was in some other time or place, or become noticeably confused. You can hold normal conversations with her, and even discuss current events and politics.
This past summer she fell and hurt her leg, and while she was still in recovery and using a walker, she got scammed out of $9,000. What happened is a young man walked up to her in the grocery store parking lot, told her that he recognized her from where she gets her car fixed, and pointed out that there was a big puddle of fluid under her car (which he likely poured there while she was in the store). He managed to talk her into allowing him to repair it himself, telling her that if she paid him in cash he'd do it for a discount at his "Dad's shop". He told her he needed $3,000 to buy the parts she needed. She doesn't have that kind of cash, but he convinced her to take out a cash advance on her credit card (which of course cost her hundreds in fees and a super-high interest rate).
The story gets worse. He chatted her up, treated her like a queen and basically drove her around in her own car for three days, during which time he had his "wife" buy her breakfast while he supposedly worked on her car, and talked her into pulling out yet another $6,000 cash advance, this time to pay for the labor for "his guys". He never took her to a shop, never told her what parts he was replacing or what was being done to her car. Supposedly "his guys" worked on her car in various parking lots while she was in a Denny's or a bagel shop eating breakfast. She just accepted everything he was telling her without question. Keep in mind the car itself is only worth about $15,000...yet she swears he made it all sound so "logical". (Logical that a car worth $15,000 would need $9,000 in repairs ) She never thought to call one of her three adult children, two of whom are married to guys who know cars inside and out. Never asked for an estimate, never got a receipt or record. Just waltzed into two different branches of her bank with a stranger, took out $9,000 cash advances on her credit card, and handed it to him.
A few days later her bumper came loose again...one of the things he said he'd fixed...so she tried calling his cellphone number, and it was disconnected. That's when it suddenly dawned on her that she got scammed. She was so ashamed that she didn't bother to tell any of us. My sister and I just discovered it this week, when we wanted to review her finances with her...something we do every few months...and she didn't want to show us her credit card statement. We finally saw it, and she had to tell us what happened.
In relating the story, she seemed very confused about the details and sequence of events. At first she didn't even remember that she'd gone to two banks over the course of three days, or the total amount...she thought she'd only given him $5000. She says she believed it all because he told her he'd worked on her car before at the shop she usually takes it to, so she believed she knew him.
She blames it on the fact that she was in a lot of pain because of her hurt leg, and the fact that she was taking Vicodin at the time. And maybe if the whole scam had been for less money, I could accept that. But the total amount of money is staggering...especially given that that was a large percentage of her net worth! Mom is NOT wealthy, and lives off a small pension, Social Security and Veterans benefits from my Dad (who died long ago)...and this is a huge, horrific hit to her finances.
My sister is convinced that this was just a stupid thing that Mom did, but doesn't indicate the beginnings of dementia. Mom has always been too trusting, if not downright gullible. She grew up in a small Southern town where everyone knew everyone, and has never really adjusted to the realities of living in a big cosmopolis where we're all anonymous and criminals will victimize you if you give them a chance. She also doesn't want to "be a bother", and doesn't like it when we (her kids) try to take control of her life.
But the truth is, this is not the first time she got scammed...she once blew several thousand dollars on a completely unnecessary water-softening system, because the nice people who sold it to her convinced her that the hard water in her new condo was going to kill her cat (they don't even HAVE hard water in her community). She's paid way too much for a new hot-water-heater and various home repairs and lord knows what else, because she doesn't want to be impolite and question the price, or appear untrusting and seek out additional quotes.
After the water-softener thing a few years ago, we demanded that she NEVER buy anything worth more than a couple hundred dollars again without talking to one of us first. And yet she didn't even think to call one of us when a stranger told her she needed 9 grand worth of repairs to her car.
Another explanation that my sister is hanging her hat on is that Mom just allowed herself to be entranced by all the personal attention of this nice, attractive young man, and let herself get snookered because she enjoyed it. And maybe I could accept that, if it wasn't for the fact that Mom is not a lonely old lady with no life. She's very active - she's on the local arts council, she volunteers for Kiwanis and goes to Kiwanis meetings all the time, she goes to a yoga studio, she has friends and activities. I'm sure it would feel a bit intoxicating to have a nice young guy treating you special for a couple days...but shouldn't the NINE GRAND have raised some red flags?
It's the magnitude of the thing that has me convinced that this is more than her just being too trusting. If a nice young man had chatted her up and showered her with attention, and then told her she needed several hundred dollars worth of repairs, I could see her falling for that without necessarily being indicative of a slide into dementia. Just like I could see her falling for the water-softening salespeople scaring her about her cat, or the water-heater guy convincing her that's how much water-heaters cost. All of those things were at least within the realm of believability, especially by someone who tends towards gullibility anyway.
But NINE THOUSAND DOLLARS...more than half the value of the whole car? To me that doesn't say gullibility. That says a distinct lack of basic comprehension and cognition.
Hi Lee, welcome to the board. I agree, this is a tough one. Even though you provided a lot of information about the circumstances, what I'd find more instructive is the more "normal" and less alarming (and expensive) changes in her behavior and cognition. If her falling victim to this horrible scam (call the police!!) is a sign of early dementia, surely there have been other signs too. Personally, I don't believe in "normal old-age forgetfulness." Maybe I'll feel differently when I'm older, but with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, it's the famous last words.
You have to look for other things your mom might be doing at this stage, that seem normal, but probably aren't. Does your mom have trouble making decisions? Like choosing what to order in a restaurant? That was one of the first things that alarmed me about my mom, she always said "I'll have what you're having." I think the Alzheimer's Assoc. page has a list comparing what is normal age-related forgetfulness and what is early dementia.
My mom always liked to shop and spend money, but she was always clearly in control of what store she wanted to hit and what kind of haul she wanted to bring home. It was 5 or 6 years ago (now age 72, in Assisted Living) that she started with the buying from whomever came to the door. She had recently moved from NY to MI to live near me, my husband, and our new baby. First, I recommended a favorite department store when she needed a dress for the baptism, and she came home with like 6 dresses, for over $1000. She said every dress the saleswoman showed her was fabulous so she just bought them all. I told her that is insane (unlike your mom, mine does not keep a social life with occasions for so many dressy outfits) and she returned 4 of them. Her suggestibility alarmed me. But hey, we can all get carried away shopping, right?
One day I took my toddler son out to a playgroup and we picked up lunch. He was very fussy and I was happy just to get him home and have some food to quickly give him before a nap. My mom was at my house to help with some housework or something, but probably just because she liked hanging around (losing motivation for lots of activities is a sign). When my son and I came in, I found her in the kitchen talking to a total stranger, a middle-aged man peddling frozen meat. I had bought this kind of meat once before and thought it was awful and felt dumb for even trying it, but this guy was in my HOUSE and worse, my mom was talking to him like she knew him for 100 years! She introduces me to him and starts telling me all about his dog, and telling him all about her grandchild, and all this other personal nonsense, while I could tell he was just smiling until she finished writing the $400 check. I told her, and him, that I didn't want any meat and gave her tons of looks trying to hint to her to get him out of here, but I had to tend to my son who was in a near tantrum and needed to eat. I was just so upset with her, and how she could just invite strangers into my house not caring about the safety of my child, my things, etc. She was clueless as to why this even bothered me.
Understandably, your mom probably feels pretty embarrassed about what happened. After I took over my mom's finances 3 years ago, and found she had spent thousands of dollars at shady mall kiosks, my mom was embarrassed too. But usually my mom would just blow of these lapses in judgement, whether big or small. If she was cooking a recipe and it got ruined, she would never go back to the recipe and try to figure out where she went wrong. She would just say she was trying something different, with no rhyme or reason. If she bought something and couldn't work it, she declared it broken and would return it. I intercepted this once and realized nothing was broken, and she didn't even try calling customer service or anything.
So these are some signs that are only apparent to me in hindsight. I don't think you're off base, and I think you have good reason to be concerned, especially with the financial stakes being this high. Where to go from here is another story. There are some very experienced users who can guide you in that regard.
Good luck, and please, call the cops! This is a terrible crime that he'll pull again and again.
Annie, thank you for your feedback! You've given me a lot to think about. Some of what you're saying does ring a bell...there are definitely changes, but they don't seem to follow the patterns I've been reading about in here and in other resources about dementia. She doesn't seem to have any more problems making decisions than in the past...but then, she was always one to let others make decisions for her.
See, part of the problem is that she's ALWAYS had certain character traits and behavior patterns that could be construed as similar to people with dementia, so it makes it harder to determine if there's anything new going on. She's always let others run her life for her. She married young and my Dad handled all the finances, then when he died, my uncle took over, and then when he died, my sister did...she's never had to handle her own money. She's always been a "people pleaser" and would put her own needs second to anyone else, so when it comes to making decisions, she would always either let others make them for her, or try to figure out what others wanted her to do, and do that. That's just her personality.
She's always been easily flustered, likes having a very defined routine in her day-to-day life, and gets "out-of-sorts" when her routine is broken. But she's been this way for as long as I can remember. So how do you tell if this is just her being her, or some kind of decline?
So is there anything different now? I guess I'd have to say that she has gotten more "that way" than in the past. More easily flustered, more prone to letting others make decisions, more locked into her routines, less interested in stepping out of them. But it's not startling...just more of Mom being Mom.
However, there is one difference that I have noticed...over the past few years she seems to have more trouble conversing with people in any meaningful fashion. She used to be quite the conversationalist, but now she spends most of any conversation agreeing, nodding her head, doing a little bit of parroting back what someone said, sometimes even gushing her agreement. She's always done that to a degree - hell, we used to joke that at a party everyone liked Mom because would agree wholeheartedly with the Republican, then walk across the room and agree wholeheartedly with the Democrat! That's just the "people pleasing" part of her. But in the past she would at least offer more substance in the conversation, lately it's more just blind agreement. Nobody other than us would notice this - she seems fully engaged and appears to anyone else as completely participating - but if you really pay attention, she never offered any opinion of her own, or really anything of substance...just lots of agreement.
Anyway, thanks again for your feedback. Mom has agreed to make an appointment with her PCP and we'll see what happens. I live several states away, so I just don't see Mom often enough to be able to assess her behavior and mental acuity. So we'll just have to see what the tests show.
As for the police, oh we called them alright. Their response? Nothing they can do. First of all, it happened months ago so the guy is probably long gone. Second, because it wasn't an out-and-out theft, they wouldn't be able to do anything anyway. She willingly gave him the money. I find that shocking - as far as they're concerned, no crime was committed because she chose to give him the money! But what about the fact that her car never needed 9 grand worth of repairs? Well, he did do something to it - he apparently tied up a loose bumper - and if she was willing to pay $9,000 for it, that's between her and him, they said. That seems so wrong to me, but there's just nothing I can do about it.
Lee, I agree, call the police. The withdrawals will indicate the time and the bank will probably have video surveillance of the thieves. If there is a chance you can help catch these unsavory creatures and prevent them from scamming some other person, it is worth it!
You mentioned "normal aging".... that does not include ...."Yes, she struggles to find words sometimes, yes she repeats herself, yes she forgets things, but nothing startling."...... These are actually early signs of cognitive impairment. The lack of judgement she used in this scam situation is also a sign of cognitive decline. In the early stages they will have moments of confusion and periods of normality. There are little signs along the way. This is a biggie. The leg injury and pain medication did not help her at all but my bet is that there is some underlying cognitive problem. The length of the scam and her inability to relate the details back to you is a huge clue.
In normal forgetfulness we can retrace our steps and figure out what we have forgotten. I lost my keys this morning but I know I took them out of the car so they have to be in the house. I would not go looking in the car for the keys but look for them in the house. With cognitive decline you would go look in the car and at the grocery store. You might forget that you used the keys or claim that the house key is the car key.
In this care your Mom went on an extended adventure with unknown people giving them large amounts of money. Ask yourself... Would Mom have done this 10 years ago? That shows extremely poor judgement on many levels. Poor judgement and decision making is an early sign of dementia. This is not a one time minor incident but an extended situation that lasted for days.
Struggling to find words is definitely a sign that something is amiss. This goes along with repeating herself which is not normal.
We tend to dismiss these early signs and symptoms as "normal aging" because they are sporadic. Please follow your gut feelings and have her tested sooner rather than later.
My story..... Mom seemed ok. She was beginning to withdraw from her normal routine and had a few episodes of "normal aging" such as repeating herself, poor judgement, getting lost just twice, and having trouble with words. She was diagnosed with depression... but she forgot to take her antidepressant! Then she met two guys in a restaurant... nice guys that she invited to come home with her! She turned over $250,000! They turned out to be legit insurance salesmen but for a low rated company that sold her something she did not need. I was able to get it back. Then she did it AGAIN!! I got that back as well but we ended up paying penalties and capital gains Then I started looking, really paying attention to what was going on. What I thought was ok was NOT! Bills were paid because she would take them out of the mailbox, write a check, and put it right back in the mail box. Then she threw out the portion she should keep. But oops, some were paid twice and some overdue. Very rare and random at first and then more frequently. She was taking money out of the bank and then could not tell me what she had done with it. She didn't go to the women's club meeting. She "didn't want to go". I found out later she was supposed to make a cake. When I ask her to make the cake with me... she was lost. She could not follow a recipe. I found a burned up pot in the back of the cabinet. I ask her about recent past events and she could not give me accurate information. I thought she was ok... but she was NOT. She passed away from Alzheimer's last Monday. All those "normal signs of aging" were not normal. They were just the tiny beginning of a huge diagnosis.
So please have your Mom tested. Be sure there is a complete physical with blood work and medication review to determine if there is another reason for her symptoms. Get an MRI. Take her for extended memory/cognition testing if there is any indication on the simple test. Any score lower than 30 on the MMSE is a problem. Do not just brush it off as "normal aging"!!!
I want to say THANK YOU for the feedback! I have to agree now that there is something going on. Unfortunately I don't live near her - we're a few states away - but she's promised to make an appt with her PCP today, and let me talk to her doctor on the phone during the appt. so I can make sure the doctor knows the full story.
As for the police - they won't help. My sister called them as soon as we found out. They told her that it's been too long (it happened in July, the guy is long gone), and that they wouldn't be able to do anything anyway because she willingly gave him her money, and so it would be a he-said-she-said thing. Which makes no sense to me - don't the circumstances count for anything? The bank won't help either - they said she did the withdrawals, she got the money, she should have known the terms of her credit card. So we're SOL on that too.
Deb, I also wanted to say that it's so kind of you to be in here helping other when you've just lost your Mom. I'm so sorry for you loss.
I'll report back once she's been to the doctor. I'm sure I'll have even more questions then.
Last edited by moderator2; 01-04-2013 at 10:15 AM.
As far as your mother is concerned, it might be good, from this point, to try keeping track of her spending from now on. Do her checks have carbon copies? Can you get online access to her bank accounts? I was lucky that my dad has been forthcoming on giving me access to look at everything, access his bank accounts, and eventually write his checks.
If you know who your mom's doctor is, you might want to write him/her a letter discussing your concerns and requesting the office call her to make an appointment, if she hasn't done so yet.
I hope things are going better for you.
Last edited by moderator2; 01-04-2013 at 10:15 AM.
Yes, we're taking control of her finances. I've now got access to her accounts online. We're going to get her a home equity loan to pay off the credit card, which means she'll be paying off this scumbag for the next five years, but at least it will be at a more reasonable interest rate. We're closing the accounts of her other two credit cards, and taking some other measures as well. She's not pleased about this - feels we're "infantalizing" her, but at this point I just don't trust her to make appropriate judgments with her money.
I'm giving her until the end of today to make an appt. with her doctor, and if she doesn't, I will.
She's not happy with me. She says I'm treating her like a child. Well, yeah. And I'm trying to deal with my own anger over this. It's just such a HUGE amount of money! All told, including the initial cash advance fees and the interest she's been paying on it since July, she's out over 10 grand. That's almost a third of her entire net worth (not including her equity in her condo)! And she just doesn't seem to get how awful this is, and why we won't just forgive her the "mistake". She says to me, "Can't you just believe that I've learned my lesson?" NO! Not when you handed 1/3 of your net worth to a stranger!
My biggest challenge right now is figuring out how not to destroy our relationship over this. I'm just so angry, and I'm trying to be kind and understanding when I talk to her, but part of me wants to reach through the phone and throttle her for being so dumb. But I also realize that this is not entirely her fault - there's something biological going on that caused her to do this, and we need to find out what it is...and then figure out how to ensure it never happens again.
Dementia is not for Wimps!! There should be an encyclopedia of this disease by that name.
Online access to the checking accounts is imperative but that is after the fact. It will give you an indication if anything is amiss rather than depending on her to tell you. Also make sure somebody's name is on the account other than your Mom's. Make this a co-owner and not just a courtesy signature. That way you can do anything she could do... include stop payments. It is best she has as little access as possible to her money. Rather than a credit or debit card, you might want to try a prepaid debit card. That way she is limited to the dollar amount that is on the card and does not have access to large amounts of her money. Or limit the amount of money in her checking account leaving most of it in a savings that she can not access easily.
I am sure she is royally ticked off at you How dare you think she is irresponsible. Truly, the more you type, the more I am convinced there is something to be diagnosed. Just the fact that she doesn't understand the enormity of what has happen is telling. This is typical of someone with cognitive decline
Is there no one local to her that can go to the doctor with her? She may make the appointment but keeping the appointment is another matter. Yes, you do need to have conversation with the doctor before, during, and after the appointment if you can not go with her. Mom may or may not be able to relate to you what was said. I remember those days of long distance... YUCK!
Especially in the early stages of this disease, I think every body struggles with their own emotional storm. We tend to react as if our loved ones are rational thinking adults. It is difficult to understand that they are not in control as you and I are. Their brains have short circuited and that gives them a very different perspective..... which frequently clashes with our perspective.
Mom sees meddling kids that are taking away her independence and treating her like a child. She does not see anything wrong with what she had done. She is fine and the rest of the world has gone crazy around her. How dare you accuse her of not being able to deal with her own life. But on the flip side if you thought you were ok and somebody walked in and took away your financial control... you would be angry too!. You have to remember that she has NO clue she has a degenerative brain disease. She is FINE!
Then there is you who expects Mom to know better. How dare she give away 1/3 of her assets to somebody she didn't know. What was she thinking? Then to hide it? That only makes it worse. Yes, Mom should have known better. Why did she not call the police? Why did she let them come back again? What a stupid thing to do! What is wrong with you Mother! It's the biggest deal in your life time so far so why are you not concerned Mom? Mom at least act like you are!! ... am I close?
Each of those statements comes from a place that still thinks of Mom as the logical rational sound thinking adult that she was. It assumes that she has control over her judgement, decision making, and understanding of the reproductions and consequences. If anybody else had done this you would have every right to be angry with them but Mom... she truly is doing the best she can. She has brain damage that clouds her logic, takes away her judgement, makes decisions difficult, and does not allow her to understand consequences or feel remorse. When you understand that what Mom has is brain damage it is a little easier to get your own emotional roller coaster under control.
Also, if you hold on to this anger it only hurts your. Your Mom will be past if, if not already, then soon. It will fad into a distance non memory and something new will take it's place. If you let each incident accumulate then you will become so bitter that you can not do a good job of caring for her. That is why I say you have to let it go. Her disease (brain damage) created this problem. Mom would not have done this without something seriously wrong. Now you know better how to protect her and you will do better. So this is just one expensive learning lesson. It's like being angry with a baby for spilling it's milk. You Mom unknowingly spilled her money. Instead of being angry at her, focus your energies on setting up the safety net necessary to prevent it from happening again.
As for reporting the scam... I would go to the state attorney, the FBI, the Consumer Fraud Agency... anybody that would listen. The statute of limitations has to be at least 2 to 5 years... not 6 months! Yes, your Mom took out the money but it was perpetrated using false pretenses and no matter how you cut it.. that is illegal. The person I would be furious with is the law enforcement that did nothing
Hope you get a good diagnosis from the doctor and do keep us informed.
Many old people get scammed. But Mom is scammed more often.
I think it is some kind of dementia. But you need to do the MMSE test and etc for her.
My opinion is that since Mom may be too confused by the cheater due to dementia and that is why she was scammed a lot since she trusted them. She could no longer make the right judgment not to be cheated. This can be part of dementia. My late FIL changed his phone plan twice just because someone called upon him and he didn't even understand his own phone plan - not to mention which one is better! Just because the guy said their plan is better and he believed them! (My late FIL had Alzheimer's.)
And don't forget to get a Power of Attorney if it's not too late. Some banks have their own form, but someone in the family needs to be able to exercise the Power as her condition deteriorates. It might be wise to consult with a lawyer, or at least consider consulting with one sometime in the future.