#45: Fraud and family.

How do you help when a loved one is caught up in a scam?

My elderly father's wife passed away in April and I'm concerned that he's being financially exploited by his new "lady friend."

Roughly $100k at this point. Aside from the obvious (invoke Power of Attorney, talk to law enforcement, etc), do you have any advice? Especially how to handle this on a personal/emotional level?

I’m curious about how obvious the exploitation is, if it’s black and white or if it’s a little bit more of a gray area.

Is it the kind of situation where anyone would agree he was being scammed? Or is it less straightforward?

Does he have any cognitive impairments, like dementia or Alzheimer’s, that might prevent him from making sound choices? Is he a man in mourning who’s being taken advantage of by a bad actor? Is she a seductress who’s alluring him with the promise of sex and emotional validation? Is it a relationship that might be in bad taste, or might not make a lot of sense to you, but has a chance of being authentic?

These are all questions you need to answer for yourself before moving forward.

Bu let’s assume this woman is a fraud. If he’s obviously being fleeced, and you’re reasonably confident about this, I would intervene.

First, make your case. Gather evidence, examine the situation from all sides. Acknowledge that there are pieces of this you may not know, that may not be visible to you.

Intervening is a serious step, and it’s one that might wreck your relationship with your father, and potentially even other family members. It’s vital that you’re 100% certain, that you’re making this choice because there is no other option. It has to rise to the level of life or death for you, the kind of thing where you wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if you didn’t intervene. You have to be more certain about this than you’ve been about anything else in your life.

This is not a situation to play around with lightly, for myriad reasons.  

You don’t want to infantilize your father either—at the end of the day, he is an adult. My evergreen “should I get involved?” advice when it comes to relationships is that you should only do it if the person is at serious risk. There’s giving your opinion as a friend or family member, and then there’s intervention. Intervention is an emergency measure, something that you need to take as seriously as you possibly can.

The next thing I would do is find somebody you can trust who can help support you. Do you have any siblings? Are there any close family friends you can reach out to? You don’t have to include them in the conversation, but I do think you should get their read on the situation. Because there’s a recent death involved, and because it’s an emotionally charged situation even without the possibility of a scam hanging over your head, I think getting a second opinion is a good bet here.

They may share your concern, they may not, but I think it will help you get clarity.

Finally, it’s time to talk to your dad. Again, don’t infantilize him, don’t admonish him, don’t embarrass him (he’s already going to be embarrassed; this is a humiliating and emasculating situation). Make your case to him and make sure he knows you’re saying this from a place of both compassion and concern.

Be prepared for him to be defensive, in denial, or even angry with you. He may need some space after your conversation. There may be tears. You might have to fight to rebuild your relationship. Your dad’s new girlfriend may try to prevent you from seeing him, and that may become a new battle you have to fight, too.

Remember, not only is his relationship potentially a sham, but his son is also breaking the news to him. It’s really hard when there’s something about your most intimate relationship that’s obvious to everyone else but you.

He just lost his wife and my intuition says he’s feeling really vulnerable right now. It’s humiliating, it’s heartbreaking, and this is all happening in the middle of a global pandemic where he’s (probably) cut off from his usual support systems.

There are situations where it’s best not to say anything, and for different reasons. A guy being led on by a woman out of his league but where there’s nothing financial or even emotional at stake. Sure, the relationship might not last long, but you wouldn’t want to burst his bubble that maybe he isn’t as attractive as he thinks. Sometimes people find small comforts in superficial relationships.

Another situation might be a friend who’s dating someone who’s uncouth but hasn’t really done anything wrong, he’s just kind of a jerk. What can you really do?

If you believe his life and livelihood are in danger, it’s my opinion that all of this is a necessary risk.

I can’t give legal advice, but if legal intervention feels like it’s going to be necessary, I definitely would investigate speaking with a lawyer. Bring your concerns to them, and see what they would recommend as far as the specifics are concerned. There might be nothing else you can do if your dad is technically consenting to it, and unwilling to see that his situation might be putting him in danger.

Now for what I think you need to do to heal. My best advice is to do everything you can to show your dad that you love him, and you’re here for him during this time. What’s going to be eating away at you is that you feel powerless in the face of someone hurting someone you love. Anger is justified, but it’s anger that will lead to depression unless you turn it to action.

You may not make any headway with seeking justice. But you can channel that anger into love. Not love towards this woman, but again, towards your dad.

I am so sorry you’re going through such a complicated and disheartening situation over the holidays. I hope everything works out for the best. Your dad is lucky to have a son who loves him so much. Really, you’re a good son. Don’t forget that.

Have a question? Drop me a line at defaultefriend@gmail.com, DM me on Twitter at @default_friend, or send me a question on CuriousCat.