Estate Planning

Planning for Special Circumstances

Beware of Love Scams

by Rania Combs

Is your elderly parent or grandparent involved in a new relationship with someone significantly younger?

If so, beware. Thanksgiving may be a good time for you to get to know your parent or grandparent’s new partner and evaluate their intentions.

In some cases, the love is real; however, fake love scams abound. There is a growing problem of younger people claiming to fall in love with lonely, senior citizens in order to steal everything they have.

I recently read an article about Aloysius Mack, a 92 year old man suffering from dementia. He was scammed by a woman who pretended to be in love with him, married him, and then defrauded him of his life savings.

He is not alone. The article also mentioned Benita Manalo, a 79 year old woman who also has severe dementia. She married a caretaker twenty-eight years younger, who started misappropriating funds from her bank account.

While not all younger people involved in a relationship with an older person have nefarious intentions, a significant age difference should raise a red flag.

Scammers target the elderly because they are sometimes lonely and isolated. Additionally, some seniors have declining cognitive ability, which makes them more vulnerable to fraud.

So how can you protect the seniors you love from love scams?

  1. Make sure your loved-one stays active and involved. Isolation and loneliness increases the chances that a senior citizen will become financially exploited. Visit them often and at unexpected times.
  2. Be suspect of close relationship with a much younger person who has become increasingly influential and for whom lavish gifts are purchased.
  3. Counsel your loved one to be wary of anyone trying to convince them to alter estate planning documents or powers of attorney.
  4. Monitor their bank and credit card statements for suspicious activity. Check for warning signs of fraud, such as large withdrawals from bank accounts, numerous uncharacteristic smaller withdrawals, checks written to people you don’t know, changes in spending habits.
  5.  Check for signs of cognitive decline, such as changes in hygiene or eating habits, forgetfulness, and stacks of unopened mail or unpaid bills. If the senior in your life exhibits signs of cognitive decline, set up a bank account for him or her with limited funds and a spending limit on the debit card. That way, if fraud occurs, the loss would be minimal.

Fraud is all around us, but targets the most vulnerable among us. If you think you or someone you love has been a victim of fraud, take action immediately. To report fraud, contact the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, or the Texas Attorney General’s Office.

About Rania

Rania graduated magna cum laude from South Texas College of Law Houston and is the founder of Rania Combs Law, PLLC. She has been licensed to practice law since 1994 and enjoys helping clients in Texas and North Carolina create estate plans that give them peace of mind.

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