Leblanc: Protecting dementia patients from being scammed

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With millions of people having their credit card information stolen during the past holiday season, myself included, I thought it would be a great time to write about how to keep our loved ones, who are suffering from dementia, financially safe.

A common, early sign of dementia involves turmoil in the area of money management. Problems counting change, piles of unopened bills spread all over the kitchen table or excessive purchases on credit card statements are indications that something is amiss. Unfortunately this might not be noticed until there is a large amount of debt already accumulated.

Sadly, there are thousands of deceitful people – or should I say vultures – just waiting for a chance to take advantage of those who are memory-impaired. Telemarketers, charity scams, health-care scams and even door-to-door solicitors can be absolutely brutal to anyone who is easy prey.

Things to be on the lookout for are large numbers of packages being delivered, sudden changes in bank account balances and overdue bill notices.

One option might be to have their mail re-routed to a post office box so you, the caregiver, can have a firsthand look at what’s going on. But you also might find, as I did, that there is precious little time to get away from the house to retrieve that mail!

Try switching out their credit cards for the ones that are prepaid. When it comes to cash, restrict them from carrying much, possibly without them being aware. With my father, I always tried to make sure he had some money in his pocket. It kept him feeling he still had some kind of independence and control. He always was trying to pay someone for their services, even if he didn’t owe them a penny. This included Hospice nurses who came to the house. Well, actually, most of the time he would just give me the order to pay them. Even though they didn’t accept, for his pride’s sake, we would let him think they had.

Now, what if you find out they already have accumulated a $10,000.00 credit card debt? Request a copy of a free credit report with their name on it. This will show you when these accounts were opened. If they are newer accounts that have been acquired after the symptoms of dementia have started, these accounts might not be valid. A person must be fully competent and of sound mind when signing a contract. Also, check to see if they signed up for credit card insurance. This would be quite helpful in dealing with the pay-off.

Ask all their doctors to write letters stating their patient is permanently disabled from Alzheimer’s, or some other dementia related disease, and approximately when their symptoms began. If they live in an adult care center, have the administration write a letter verifying they are now under their professional care.

Take comfort in knowing that Social Security funds cannot be garnished for credit card debt. However, pensions and personal savings are vulnerable.

If this all boils down to you having to appear in court on their behalf, you’ll want the judge to review these documents. And if you haven’t already consulted with an elder law lawyer, I suggest you do so right away. Whatever fees they have to pay the lawyer surely will offset the amount they would have to pay if they don’t have the correct legal advice.

This is why it’s vital to have someone who’s trustworthy appointed as durable power of attorney early on.

We must be ever vigilant when seeking to protect our loved ones who are afflicted with this devastating disease. As I said before, there are vultures just waiting for the right moment to swoop down and devour their prey.