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The Moneyist: ‘She was homeless and I was alone:’ I was befriended by a woman who moved into my home — she gradually stole $40,000 from me

Dear Quentin,

I was disabled for about 10 years. During that time a woman befriended me, and asked to move in. I needed no assistance, but she was homeless and I was alone. We agreed she would pay half the rent and utilities, which she did for a year. 

She would “cash advance” my credit cards and ATM and tell me she had placed these funds in her bank for me. She would collect other sums of cash, and do the same. I also paid the entire food bill for two. All the while I was on heavy medications.

I knew I was being taken advantage of but she said if I stopped paying her half the bills, I would get nothing. So it went on that way for 10 years. She would keep track of the amounts and tell me the balances, but I was never allowed to withdraw any.

“‘She said that the money was in an account with her daughter who was investing it for me.’”

She had been mentally abusing me to the point I went to a hospital for rest. I was no longer impaired and thinking clearly. I had given her $40,000 or more. I asked firmly for $10,000 so I could buy a car. She laughed and said, “You really didn’t think you would get that back.”

She said the funds are in her daughter’s name. Aside from the cash advances, there is no paper trail. There was physical abuse if I complained. It is embarrassing to be conned. She told me no one will believe me because I saw a psychiatrist.

I was abused and conned in my home for a long time, and there are no witnesses. All I have are tape recordings where she sneers and says she lied about this to me. And repeated, “No one will believe me.” Will they be of any value to a lawyer?

Feeling Hopeless

Dear Feeling,

You were alone and vulnerable, and there is nothing to be embarrassed about. The most dastardly trick an abuser plays is to convince the victim that it is their fault. It’s not. I believe in you, and most importantly you have regained a belief in yourself.

She is a grifter. You are a survivor. You invited this woman into your home to help you, and instead she helped herself to your savings, and coerced you into handing over your money. You need to seek outside help. Writing this letter was the first step.

Contact your local branch of adult protective services, and tell them that you are the victim of abuse, and you need this woman to get out of your home. Everyone has a right to feel safe, particularly in their own home. You are no exception. Take one step at a time.

“‘The most dastardly trick an abuser plays is to convince the victim that it is their fault.’”

The National Center on Elder Abuse, a government agency affiliated with the U.S. Administration on Aging, and the nonprofit National Adult Protective Services Association will provide help with the steps you can take to report this case.

Financial elder abuse often occurs with the apparent tacit cooperation of the victim, and that can be the most painful aspect to come to terms with. But that is also an integral part of coercive control. The police, your doctor and adult protective services are only a phone call away. 

It’s hard to know whether your audio recordings will be useful in a legal case. Most states are one-party recording states, meaning that you only need the permission of one person present to make a recording. A lawyer can give you the advice you need.

“‘Financial elder abuse often occurs with the apparent tacit cooperation of the victim.’”

Elder abuse impacts an estimated 5 million Americans every year, according to the National Council on Aging, and multiple agencies say the number of cases is increasing and underreported. You are one of a community of brave, strong and precious survivors.

One-third of elder-abuse victims suffer from depression, anxiety or trauma, according to the New York City Department for the Aging, which makes it difficult for them to take the necessary steps to break the cycle. Please know that you are not alone.

You may or may not get your money back. As you say, it may be difficult without a paper trail, especially if the money has been hidden and/or spent. Before you do anything, inform the authorities. They will help make sure that you are safe in your own home.

Yocan email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at qfottrell@marketwatch.com, and follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter.

Check out the Moneyist private Facebook group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

The Moneyist regrets he cannot reply to questions individually.

More from Quentin Fottrell:

• I’m 60 and a single mother. My daughter, 17, has a developmental disability. How do I make sure she’s taken care of after I’m gone?
• ‘We have an absolutely great relationship’: My live-in boyfriend gives me what he used to pay in rent. Should I give him a stake in my home?
• ‘I feel slighted’: My husband of 10 years stopped paying his salary into our joint account — and asked me to pay $900 toward our rent

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