Smile Senior Care knows that sometimes, elderly people can feel very lonely. Over the years, their children move out and away, spouses may pass away and the passing of lifelong friends can all have an affect on an older person’s feelings of solitude. This can also make seniors vulnerable to a particular type of predator. This person will pose as a friend, a helper and even do things for the elderly person. Eventually, this changes into something more sinister.
As Katherine Pearson, a professor at Penn State’s Dickinson School of Law, explains in the Elder Law Prof Blog, these “befrienders” aim to gain the trust — and eventually access to the assets — of their victims.
But if you think that older people are without recourse in such situations, think again. Taking advantage of the elderly by stealing from them (even if the “befriender” calls it a “gift”) is a criminal offense.
In November, the New Hampshire Supreme Court affirmed the convictions of Karen Gagne, who befriended 90 year-old Jane Fair back in the 1980s. When Fair moved into a nursing home about 20 years later, Gagne began stealing from her. Gagne started out by paying Fair’s bills, then used the access to her accounts to take her money.
The most alarming fact about this case – and one it has in common with any number of other befriender cases – is that Gagne’s crimes went undetected for two years. Not a soul noticed until the nursing home stopped receiving rent payments and asked questions. Of course, like any clever criminal, Gagne made a number of excuses – mostly blaming others – until the nursing home finally sensed fraud and alerted the authorities.
The takeaway? Sometimes elderly people are quick to trust, or they may simply not have the mental capacity to make good choices about who should manage their affairs. Befrienders specialize in spotting these types of victims. Family members and facility managers should be cautious when new people want to take part in caring for an elderly person, particularly when that care includes financial involvement. And it’s never too early to sound an alarm, if only to investigate what’s going on.
This is not to say that you should not trust anyone in your family member’s life. You don’t want to be overbearing but at the same time, you want to be aware of what is going on. Utilize the internet to do background checks, this way, you will be able to discreetly find out about a person’s past. Make sure that you are up to date on your family member’s association with new people. Urge your family member to only allow family to assist in financial matters.