Scammers use memory loss to prey on the elderly

The fear of losing memory has millions of consumers trying everything under to sun to stave off dementia and Alzheimer's disease. But while you're working hard to keep your memory sharp, scammers are working hard to target people who already have dementia. Con artists could be secretly stealing from your parents, your grandparents, even an unsuspecting spouse.

Seniors have always been prime scam targets. We've heard for years how seniors tend to be more trusting.

But the epidemic rise in dementia and Alzheimer's Disease is giving scammers an added advantage. Still mourning the death of her husband Charles, Ruth Hansing of Mercer Island has fresh memories of how scammers used his obvious memory loss to weasel money out of the couple's checking and credit card accounts. Hansing said she knew something was wrong when unsolicited mail started increasing dramatically.

"He was getting 10-15 letters a week telling him he'd won a sweepstakes," said Hansing. "And he was giving them all his private information."

Families across our region share their horror stories: How scammers in Thurston County approached Alzheimer patient Bill Apley at a strip mall, and conned him out of 25 thousand dollars by claiming to help local churches. How Carol Moye's parents with dementia lost more than 100 thousand in savings to a live-in caregiver in Pierce County.

"The potential for fraud and abuse with both diagnosed individuals and their loved ones is extremely high," explained Bob Le Roy, President and CEO of the Alzheimer's Association for Central and Western Washington.

Le Roy says he recently intercepted a call that could have victimized his own father who suffers with Alzheimer's.

"It appears the provider of my father's Medicare supplement and prescription drug plan sold his name to a marketing company. And they contacted me, thinking I was my father, to share with me this wonderful opportunity for us to get a $100 more a month in our Social Security. It was a program for which my father would not have qualified. There's no way my 95-year old father, with mid-stage Alzheimer's would've been able to even comprehend what was going on, much less make an appropriate decision," said Le Roy.

Renown aging and memory loss expert Dr. Gary Small says while you focus on keeping your memory, it's important to keep an eye on loved ones who are losing the battle. Small's latest book, "The Alzheimer's Prevention Program" shares the latest scientific evidence on Alzheimer's prevention and strategies to delay the onset of Alzheimer's symptons.

"Well, somebody with Alzheimer's and dementia has not only impairment in memory, but also in insight and judgment. So it's important for family members to try to protect the patients," Small said. "We certainly do that with driving, we have to think about financial risks as well. All the time we have problems like this. Another problem has to do with wills and testaments to incapacity, where people come in with a last-minute will and the person really didn't have the capacity to make decisions."

Ruth Hansing learned that protecting your loved ones from financial scams often requires you to take drastic measures you'd rather avoid. Hansing says you must have the courage to do something that compromises their dignity, which is very hard to do, to somebody you love.

"I took away his checkbook and I took away his credit cards and I had to close a couple of our credit card accounts because a couple of the organizations he told to stop taking regular withdrawals wouldn't stop doing that," she said.

Hansing says she also diverted all the household mail to a post office box so she could destroy the unsolicited marketing and scams. Memory loss experts say such drastic measures are often necessary to protect the person you love.

The local Alzheimer's Association has a lot of recourses and contacts that can help you protect your loved ones from a lot of these scams and get help dealing with memory loss issues, including the latest research on memory prevention, young onset memory loss, information and tips on how to recognize dementia or other memory impairment, where to find home care services and other assistance in your community, support groups for both the loved one and the caregiver, workshops, educational forums, and a 24/7 help line with live volunteers to take your call and provide answers, encouragement and options.