Dear Amy: My husband and I live next to a sweet elderly widower, “Fred.” We check in on him once or twice a week. He’s told us he has a brother and nieces and nephews that live a few hours away.
A few months ago, Fred asked for my help with “something on the computer.”
I went inside his house and he handed me handwritten instructions, saying he needed help connecting his checking account to a money transfer app, so he could send money to his niece. He asked me to send her $500, and then had me write out instructions.
I didn’t think it was my place to question this.
Yesterday, Fred and I were chatting, and he said that he was worried about this niece, as she was fired from her job, didn’t have a car, and might have a drug problem.
I immediately became concerned and asked if she was taking advantage of him. He seemed slightly offended, became dismissive, and then changed the subject.
I can’t stop thinking about this. My husband said I should disconnect his checking account from the app (yes, I remember his password), but I feel like Fred would just ask for my help to connect it all again.
I don’t have the names or contact information for his brother or any family.
What should I do? — Worried Neighbor
Dear Worried: Financial exploitation is a growing problem for elder Americans. According to the National Adult Protective Services Association (napsa-now.org), 1 in 9 elders are victims of financial abuse. Because of the emotional factors involved, this crime is extremely underreported. Yes, intervene.
Please, attempt to communicate about this further. His niece could be taking advantage of him. A total stranger could also be taking advantage of him. Has he been able to verify that the person asking for (and receiving) this money is actually his niece? You might be able to help him verify the identity of the person receiving the money. If this is his niece, a red flag would be if she insists that he keep these transactions a secret from her other family members. Encourage him to talk with his brother about this situation. If the niece does have a drug problem, money from Fred could make matters worse for her.
Don’t approach him as if he has made a mistake. Tell him that just like he wants to help her, you want to help him. Don’t press too hard. He will likely feel embarrassed, and this may lead to more isolation.
If you become more alarmed and believe that he is being defrauded, disconnect the app.
The National Adult Protective Services Association has a searchable database; you could report suspected fraud by calling your local hotline.
Dear Amy: A friend of mine is in a hole of debt, denial, and inaction. The person has debts growing at a rate that leads to foreclosure.
The individual’s circle of friends, many of whom have made personal loans, are getting angry that our friend refuses to recognize reality. The sooner the house is sold and debts are paid off, the larger the remainder of money will be, and the loss of friends backing the person will be lessened
Our friend always responds: “You people need to trust me.” These words are coming from someone who is an expert in failed plans that lead to financial ruin.
What approach do you think might work in trying to get our friend to see the light? — Worried
Dear Worried: You should assume that — no matter what — your friend will not see the light. Nor should you trust him when he says he has a plan.
A group intervention would likely backfire and cause him to hide.
Each person he is indebted to should describe a reasonable plan for repayment, and attach a real consequence (possibly legal, definitely relational) if your friend doesn’t get a handle on his problem. Each of you should urge him to attend Debtors Anonymous meetings (debtorsanonymous.org).
Dear Amy: Another anecdote about an older father being mistaken for a grandfather: My father was 57 when the youngest of my parents’ 10 children was born.
One day, he had a group of us out at a park when a woman said, “Oh, it’s so nice that you’re out with your grandchildren for a picnic!”
My father said, “These are not my grandchildren, and believe me, this is no picnic!” — Nancy, in Columbia MD
Dear Nancy: With that many children, a quick wit is a necessity.