Family Scammers are Humbugs

Dear Carolyn,

My mother is elderly and has dementia. My sister is acting as her power of attorney, and of course, has her check book. Now, my sister has has a new car she cannot afford. I think she is stealing money from my elderly mother, or at least scamming her out of the money. What can I do? My sister is greedy and a phony scammer. She is not who she pretends to be in her church.


Carolyn Answers:

It sounds like your sister is a “humbug.”

The word “humbug” means a scammer, someone who’s a fraud. Another word for humbug might be an imposter. Probably, when you think of the word “humbug” you might think of “Bah! Humbug!”– a term used by Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens.

However, the word “humbug” is also used in The Wizard of Oz. The Wizard of Oz is a humbug. When Dorothy, the Lion, Scarecrow, and Tin Man arrive at the throne room of the Wizard at the end of the yellow brickroad, Toto tips over a screen on the side of the throne room that reveals the Wizard. He sadly explains he is a humbug, a fraud. He isn’t a wizard at all. The Wizard is an ordinary old man from Omaha, Nebraska who came to Oz in a hot air balloon. A fraud, a scammer, a humbug.

The Wizard was a person presenting himself as something he was not. Your sister is representing herself as a loving, caring daughter, when in fact (based upon your facts) she is not.

Some of the scams that have to be critically viewed in our society are family scams. Scam humbugs can be perpetrated by close family members able to exercise undue influence and trick or deceive particularly the elderly and the infirm family members.

We all think of credit card scams, telephone scams, and online scams affecting the elderly. But, the elderly are most frequently victimized by a greedy family member or a drug-addicted family member. Bloomberg has estimated that $37 billion a year is scammed from America’s elderly, and most from a close family member. That greedy family member may well have a power of attorney to act for the older adult.

I caution you all to be on the lookout for this. Is there someone in your family’s life that is a scammer? Family scammers prey on the elderly, frequently with greed as the motivation. How are they perpetuating the scam? You as an honest and helpful family member must be vigilant and detailed. So that family member who is acting under the power of attorney has a new car, and it is not apparent that the car is affordable to the person. Be alert to an indicator like this—involve law enforcement. Or seek a review of the person acting under the Power of Attorney with the Courts. The vulnerable and elderly do not need to be victimized!