One of the more difficult situations I advise people about in my work with elderly frauds and scams is how and when to step in if an elder is getting ripped off. The grown child or caregiver is often struggling with a so-called “stubborn” person, or they describe them as “set in their ways,” which means they aren’t listening to the pleas from those around them about the risks present in the situation. Worst of all, the victim doesn’t “get” the urgent need to address the problem with specific steps to stop the perpetrator. Many times there’s also denial on the elder’s part; I’ll cover this more in a moment.
Stubbornness refers to a thinking and behavioral rigidity or inflexibility, which is useful at times and can have many sources. It’s healthy to be able to assert your own views and preferences, and to stand up for what you believe in while respecting others’ right to do the same. We harness a kind of constructive stubbornness when we refuse to be swayed by the tactics of slimy salespeople, and others (including con artists) who are trying to manipulate us for their gain. For example, one aspect of elderly fraud prevention I advocate is coaching seniors on refusing to be chosen for home repairs, prizes, and other unsolicited goods and services. Being stubborn about this is a good thing.
Stepping in means temporarily taking charge of the situation for your senior’s protection. I encourage those I consult with to think of it as “borrowing” the victim’s free will for a short time. Doing this will probably cause “blowback” if they tend to be stubborn. Expect it, don’t take it personally, and don’t let it stop you if you have strong evidence that something’s up. Always keep in mind you are protecting the senior. Consider that they have a strong need to maintain their independence, and if you are seen as taking that away from them they will resist your efforts to help. A strategic way to think about this and present it to the victim is that the perpetrator is the one who is actually trying to take away their independence by draining their financial resources. Back this up with hard numbers if you can get them to show how much the scammer has already taken from them.
Be sure to do your best to calm yourself first, since emotions are “catching.” Then, work with your elder by using empathy and validation. Empathy means putting yourself in the victim’s shoes emotionally, and validation means letting them know their feelings make sense (if only from their scammer-distorted view). Remember they are likely feeling some combination of fear and confusion. A further method is to drop the volume of your voice and talk more slowly. This tends to soothe a person into a calmer state. These methods are geared toward increasing the sense of safety and connection between you and your elder, so you can use your emotional system to help them calm down. When a person is calmer they are better able to use their reasonable mind for responding, rather than just reacting. It may take more than one attempt, but the goal is to protect them and, ideally, help them see what’s going on and partner with you for recovery.
To help with handling denial in a scam victim, I have created a Guide to a Scam Denial Intervention. It’s a free gift you can download when you buy my book. Instructions are included in the relevant chapter.
Thanks for reading,