Ask Paul: My husband has dementia and I'm exhausted protecting him from scammers


Dear Paul,

As an elderly full-time carer looking after an equally elderly partner with Parkinson's and dementia, the biggest worry I have is that he will be scammed.  

My partner is stubborn and insists on having his Amex card. Today he gets an SMS on his mobile phone advising him that $637.85 has been charged to his Amex card. I verbally told him it is a scam and to delete the SMS.

ask paul my partner has dementia and i'm exhausted trying to protect him from scammers

He will not. He rings his bank. 

Meanwhile, even though I have full power of attorney, I am helpless. 

How do I protect my husband, apart from just cancelling all his cards? 

I am old and exhausted, and these scammers are relentless in trying to steal our hard-earned savings. Every day they try something new. - Mrs Pillay

Mrs Pillay, this is a powerful message and I thank you for getting in touch. Your situation resonates deeply with me and I know it will for all Money readers.

How do we cope when either we, our partner or a family member, age and start to lose past money skills?

It is not only credit cards, but also self-managed super funds, shares, property, money at the bank and so on.

To be frank, the issue of credit cards such as Amex is not one I had considered.

The simple-sounding answer is, of course, to cancel it.

But this is not simple at all inside a relationship. Like a driving licence, control of our money gives us something we deeply value, our independence.

I had a couple of conversations with Amex, and like most credit card providers they have invested heavily in scam detection.

Amex tells me: "If an American Express card member becomes a victim of fraud, they won't be held liable for any fraudulent charges."

This is great, but does not really address the bigger issue. It may also be spending on items that you simply do not need.

As you have power of attorney, you could reduce the limit on the card. This would minimise financial risks.

Then we come to the tough part of your question. I have been pondering this for days.

How do you gently and lovingly help your partner by taking away things like credit cards? Here I found Dementia Australia very helpful. It has a significant amount of advice on its website, or you can phone 1800 100 500.

What is clear is that you are not alone: 472,000 Australians live with dementia and it impacts hugely on the 1.6 million people involved in their care.

I found the words written by carers such as yourself really valuable.

One lady is in exactly the same situation as you. Cancelling things like credit cards caused significant tension between her and her partner. Her solution was for the credit cards to be "lost".

I am not suggesting this, though it was a practical solution.

But I would suggest a discussion with Amex about a reduced limit.

If you would like, I can get back in touch with Amex and have one of their team call you. I am also keen on you having a conversation with Dementia Australia. With hundreds of thousands of people impacted by dementia, it deals with the issues you face, such as credit cards, every day.

Your question has caused me to become far more aware of the emotional complexity of gradually taking control of a loved one's affairs.

About 1 million people are predicted to be impacted by dementia in the coming years and personal finances are going to be a major issue. I am pretty sure there are no easy solutions, but in the next issue I'll write an article about dealing with money as we age.

My thoughts are with you, as are my best wishes.

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Paul Clitheroe AM is founder and editorial adviser of Money magazine. He is one of Australia's leading financial voices, responsible for bringing financial insight to Australians through personal finance books, the Money TV show, and this publication, which he established in 1999. Paul is the chair of the Australian Government Financial Literacy Board and is chairman of InvestSMART Financial Services. He is the chair of Financial Literacy at Macquarie University where he is also a Professor with the School of Business and Economics. Ask Paul your money question. Unfortunately Paul cannot respond to questions posted in the comments section. View our disclaimer.
Ellen McGirr
October 13, 2021 10.03pm

The difficulty of helping carers to protect people with dementia from falling victim to scammers or making poor financial.choices is such an important topic in our society where the average life expectancy is now much greater than it was in previous generations. Thank you to Mrs Pillay for raising such an important topic and thank you to Paul Clitheroe for his informative and sensitive discussion of the issue.

judith bell
October 14, 2021 10.36am

As part of the gradual deterioration accompanying dementia aggression plays a big part usually directed towards the person giving the care. Having a drivers licence taken from a male person who has driven all his life and then removal off a credit card from a wallet may cause extreme trauma in the home

In my husband's case it was an addiction to Readers Digest and their continual offers of huge sums of money to we won if they bought the latest book on offer. These books still litter our bookcases mostly unopened and unwanted

I also found The Dementia Association extremely supportive but it boils down to a one on one situation as in my case carers coming to the house were not welcome and made to feel so

It is important that the partner of a dementia sufferer is 100% over all the financial matters and using their Power of Attorney have matters arranged so that their affairs can be managed as seamlessly as possible and if possible a family member is fully aware and also has the power to operate accounts if the situation arises

Nellie Dyson
October 14, 2021 7.12pm

The most difficult part is that people with dementia think that there's nothing wrong with them. On the positive side your husband still rings his bank, I'm hoping that at least they will tell him it's a scam. Like my husband he will gradually forget how to use his phone, maybe you could put his phone on silent or block some of those numbers and program in only the contacts he knows like family and friends. it's not easy, power of attorney or not you still have to live with him. I was lucky with my husband, that he wanted nothing to do with credit cards, and I've always done most of the banking. Perhaps when his card expires, you could confiscate his new card when it arrives in the mail, and say that it's still coming , it all depends on how bad his dementia is whether or not you could get away with that. Obviously you're still going through the difficult and frustrating stage with him. I'm gradually getting past that stage with my husband, before he got to the stage he's at now he was trying to put a stop to nearly everything thing I tried to do, and still tries, but it's not as bad now as his dementia has progressed to advanced dementia, and I'm learning how to deal with things a bit better now as it was starting to affect me mentally as well as physically. Dementia is a terrible disease not only for the person that has it, but also the family, especially for a partner who has to care for someone with dementia every day.

Ros Bauer
October 15, 2021 12.43am

Reading this article has helped me be a but more kind to myself- thank you. I have had to deal with these issues with my older sister while holding down a stressful full time job over the past few years She is now in residential care and is so unhappy, telling me she will be home soon. It has been nothing short of a nightmare. I have had to take from her what is most previous to us all= here indepedance..thanks for the acknowledgement !! Now i fear i will sucome to this dreadful affliction and my sons will have this stress.. I would rather die. There is no end to what scammers will go to... ros

Marcia Joy
October 15, 2021 12.15pm

It has been the greatest challenge of my life taking over my mother's financial affairs and trying to give her some autonomy now that she has dementia. Firstly I tried to get her Debit card changed to a simple eftpos card because she was doing mail orders to companies promising she had won $25,000 if she just ordered from the next catalogue. She had 10 can openers and 12 pashminas in a cupboard full of other unopened junk.

I also discovered she was giving her debit card number to charities over the phone and they were taking money out of her account monthly. (25% of her pension was disappearing monthly).

Her credit union told me they could not give her an eftpos only card. So I opened an account with a bank that could provide one and now it only has $300 in it and she can use it when she is taken out with others. She still gives this number over the phone but the cold callers cant use it nor can the mail order companies she still tries to buy from.

The challenge of getting rid of the direct debits to charities and the constant flow of direct marketing materials in her mailbox and inserts in her magazines was another far more difficult challenge.