(Reuters) - It can be challenging to tell your teenager that you aren’t happy with the person he or she is dating. Try having that same conversation with Mom or Dad.
Yet, sometimes the tough talk is necessary because money is involved. Seniors are particularly susceptible to scams that prey on their vulnerabilities. From those spending recklessly on a romantic partner to those being scammed by a professional, dating the wrong person can be financially catastrophic.
Here are five tips on how to handle the situation if you think a loved one is being taken advantage of for their money:
1. Talk about your concern.
Start the conversation by telling your parent that you’re happy they have met someone - before gently stating your worries, says Donna Tonrey, director of the Marriage and Family Therapy program at La Salle University in Philadelphia. But know the limits on what you can do.
If your parent is making questionable financial choices, like going on a cruise they can’t really afford, but they’re healthy and mentally competent, you need to accept it. “Respect that (your) parent does have the right to spend their money any way they see fit,” Tonrey says.
Keep in mind, some financial gestures may only look problematic. “If your parent is exhibiting the kind of behavior they always exhibited, that’s a good sign that they’re happy,” says Buckley Anne Kuhn Fricker, an eldercare attorney and certified geriatric care manager in Washington, D.C.
Fricker says that the new condo your mom is buying, or the jewelry your father is giving a girlfriend, might be something that they would have spent money on, anyway, if your other parent was still around.
2. Show, don’t tell.
If your mom or dad doesn’t believe their new partner is bad news, offer proof. If you can’t find what you’re looking for on your own, Fricker suggests hiring a detective agency to do some sleuthing, even if it seems like a big intrusion.
Fricker worked with a client whose mother was in her 80’s and at the onset of dementia. The mom paid for her boyfriend’s airfare when he came to visit. The mom was also lending money to her beau, who was 20 years her junior - sometimes $5,000 at a time. The detective discovered he was married and attempting to get his senior girlfriend to deed him some property.
“We see dating and romance scams impacting seniors on a daily basis,” says Tom Burnett, a spokesman for Wymoo International, a detective agency in Jacksonville, Florida. For instance, Burnett says they had a widowed client who fell in love and invested over $1 million with a man claiming to be a money manager in Europe.
“She had to sell her beautiful home in Florida and move into an apartment. Her two children lost their inheritance,” Burnett says.
If you hire a detective agency, plan on spending a few hundred dollars for the initial leg work, and possibly much more, depending on the complexity of your case.
3. Get help if your parent is putting him or herself at risk.
You can call the local Adult Protective Services agency, and they will send a case worker to evaluate your parent's mental capacity (napsa-now.com).
Clearly, this should be a last resort, Fricker says. But if you’re at that point, you may also want to get a conservatorship, a legal maneuver that can allow the adult child to make the monetary decisions for the parent.
4. Visit often.
The most effective way to keep a romantically-inclined financial sponge away is to be around. Chances are, he or she will leave if they know they're being watched. If you live far away, and there is nobody to look out for your parent, hire a professional caregiver to drop by for semi-regular visits. You can find one through the National Family Alliance (caregiver.org).
5. Get along
It may just be that your parent simply isn’t dating who you would pick for them, just as they may have not always liked your choices in relationships when you were younger.
The main objection that 47-year-old Sheridan Becker has about her 67-year-old father’s girlfriends is that they are often younger than she is and she questions their motives.
“Every one of them is after the same thing at the end of the day: m-o-n-e-y,” says Becker, who is an expat travel blogger living in Brussels, Belgium, while her father lives in San Francisco.
But while Becker wishes her father would fall in love with a woman his own age, she says she has accepted her father’s choices in who he spends his time and money on. “At the end of the day, if my dad is happy, that’s what counts,” she says.
(The author is a Reuters contributor. The opinions expressed are his/her own.)