“Elders are being asked to trust providers, who are all strangers in the beginning, while concurrently being urged to be more discerning about the strangers they trust. An interesting and perplexing dichotomy.” As the beginning of this article in the CSA Journal describes, older adults are having to deal with a problem with trust.
In many situations, we are used to a variation of “trust but verify” where contractors, or other businesses need to be vetted to make sure that they are qualified and can do the work at a reasonable price without taking advantage of the homeowner. But people who form long-term business relationships are more difficult to “verify.”
Building the Relationship of Trust
Learning to trust an individual to provide services to an individual involves building a relationship. A person who seems trustworthy will be punctual, appear responsible, be reliable and easy to communicate with. The person will show empathy with your situation and show interest in wanting to help.
But these are the very same qualities that a confident criminal, someone who wants to fleece older adults, would use. They are experts at coming into the lives of vulnerable people at a vulnerable point and making themselves so familiar that they become trusted. First it might be an offer to drive to an appointment or to pick up grocery items. But once that relationship and trust is established, they can move on to suggesting that they get added to the checking account to help out with the bills as well.
Using Already Established Relationships for Trust Assistance
One of the best ways that older adults can get help with the need to trust people assisting them, but yet not trusting everyone is to take advantage of people they already know. A trusted attorney or accountant can be an excellent partner to assist with vetting individuals. That nice young man (or young woman) may seem trustworthy, but that already-trusted professional can provide questions that can help verify whether the person is truly to be trusted.
As a daily money manager, whether at the beginning or within a well-established relationship, I assist my clients when they to reach out to me to help them determine if an email or a telephone call is something that is important to deal with, or if it is a scam.
How to Learn to Trust But Verify
Now we’ve established that it is difficult to tell who should be trusted. We’ve seen how both a true person providing assistance, as well as criminals, tend to build trust the same way. Now we need to look at how to tell the difference between the motives of these two categories of people.
One way is to ask the questions and request actions that a professional or businessperson would be happy to oblige, but that a criminal would want to dissuade from doing. When someone is going to provide services, ask them to put down anything they plan to do in writing, and don’t sign anything until you have had someone you already trust look it over. This is where an attorney, and particularly an Elder Law attorney can provide excellent advice and guidance.
If there are going to be finances involved, it is important to get that advice of an attorney or accountant before any decisions are made, particularly if it involves the new person someone will be trusting. While more difficult to do with friends or family, asking a non-family third-party person about the situation prior to committing to anything is important. While individuals don’t like to discuss finances with others, it is still possible to discuss in general terms particularly about decisions and changes.
Trust is hard to earn, but easy to break. Whether it is a person with good intentions or bad, trust may need to be built over time with the goal of giving only the level of trust that is needed and no more.