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Yet Another Scam (Part 2)

            Last week I was telling you how Joe got scammed.  He paid money to increase his odds of winning a Publisher’s Clearinghouse prize.  It was all a lie and he lost more than $22,000 which he wired to an overseas account.

            His children were as upset about it as Joe was.  Could anything have been done to prevent it? Let’s take a closer look.

            Could Joe’s children have stepped in to stop Joe?  Not really because Joe still handles his own finances.  His son, Joe, Jr. had tried to get Dad to allow him to help but Joe had steadfastly refused.  While his children speak or see Dad several times a week he mentioned nothing about the calls he received.  In fact when his daughter, Mary was present when he took one of the calls and asked him what the call was about, Joe replied that it was a solicitation.

            What about the bank?  Does it have any responsibility?  Joe went to his local branch to wire funds to an overseas account as he was instructed to.  While it isn’t clear exactly what the bank employee who helped him asked Joe or what Joe said in response (he gave different versions of the conversation to his children and to the police when he filed a police report) wiring funds to an overseas account by itself is not illegal.  There are, however, certain bank reporting requirements if the funds exceed $10,000 or the activity looks suspicious.

            Whether the bank should have reported the activity is not clear cut in this case.  A diligent bank employee recognizing that it certainly sounded like a scam could have pressed Joe a bit or suggested that a family member be called.  However, if Joe refused and none of his children were either joint account owners on his account or designated as agent under power of attorney for the account the bank is probably violating privacy laws by contacting a family member over Joe’s objections.

            Joe, Jr. asked me if the bank can be held responsible because his dad is not competent to handle his own finances.  I explained to him that while his dad may not be as sharp mentally as he was in his younger years he does not meet the test of being incompetent which would have to be determined by way of a guardianship proceeding before a judge.

            The bank can’t simply refuse to allow Joe to access his account.  It’s his money.  As I often explain to families, Mom or Dad may be making bad decisions, but we all have the right as adults to make bad decisions.

            So where does that leave us?  What is the best way to prevent this from happening to your parent or loved one?  Keep the lines of communication open and keep your eyes and ears open.  Look for changes in behavior and questionable decision making on matters that are less impactful but that could be a precursor to a disaster in the future.

            If Mom or Dad resists offers of help try to at least maintain a dialogue of communication that will allow you to keep informed on what is going on in their daily lives.  If they become unusually defensive or guarded when asked questions about a certain subject matter that may be a red flag that something is amiss.  There isn’t a perfect solution that will work 100% of the time but that doesn’t mean you should not keep trying.  Your efforts to stick with it just might avert the financial and emotional disaster that happened to Joe.