Many people are familiar with the Internet scam in which a supposed bank official sends you a letter saying a client with your surname has died without an heir. You need only send a small fee to get the money into the country, or better, hand over your bank account information so the inheritance can be transferred.

Most people don't fall for it. But some do, like Rose Adams (whose name has been changed to protect her privacy). Rose, who is beginning to suffer from dementia, not only sent a payment to her e-mail swindlers but started an ongoing relationship with them. Over the course of several months, she received countless calls from people asking for more and more money to get her $3 million share of an $8 million inheritance. She eventually handed over more than $150,000, or one-third of her liquid assets.

"It started with e-mails, and then phone calls, and once they had a relationship established, they started calling her all the time and became her buddy," says Adams' financial advisor, Carlo Panaccione, president of the Navigation Group in Redwood Shores, Calif.

Adams' children realized something wasn't right when one of them tried to borrow money from her and saw one of her accounts nearly depleted. At that point, they started to see signs of her dementia, but it was tricky to diagnose because she was still quite lucid much of the time. Still, the children won conservatorship of her assets from a court and monitored her finances more closely after that.

They told their mother not to communicate with the scam artists anymore, but she ignored their advice and instead sold some of her jewelry and other possessions and borrowed money from her credit cards to raise cash for her new friends. "She lied to everyone around her, including me and her family," Panaccione says. "She thought it would all work out in the end, and she'd get her share of the $8 million."
One of the children was assigned power of attorney and now oversees her accounts. Automatic alerts were set up so if any account value changed by a certain amount, the children would be notified.

An estimated 35.6 million people worldwide are now living with dementia, according to the World Alzheimer Report, released by Alzheimer's Disease International. And with the baby boomer generation aging, that figure will only grow. Dementia cases will nearly double every 20 years, to 65.7 million in 2030 and to 115.4 million in 2050, the report says.

Dan Nainan, a stand-up comic in his 30s, recently confronted mental decline in his 79-year-old father, a nuclear physicist who had learned ten languages in his 70s. Nainan first noticed something was wrong when his father wound up in the hospital emaciated and dehydrated. His parents' phone had been shut off because they weren't paying attention to the bills coming in. He also found out that his father, who is worth about $5 million, had two friends trying to borrow money from him. One wanted $300,000.

Nainan and his sister are slowly moving all of their parents' finances online and putting their bills on automatic bill pay cycles. He's also meeting with a financial advisor to try to get some of his father's wealth, half of which is in stock, into investments that are less risky and pay out more current income.

"The main thing I want is to use this money to take care of them while they're still around, and I want to prevent people from coming and borrowing money from them," Nainan says. "Every time the phone rings, I think it's someone wanting to rip them off."

As the number of dementia cases rises, financial advisors are confronting it more in their practices as well. A year ago, Ross Levin, a Minneapolis-based financial advisor, noticed that one of his longtime clients began repeating himself in meetings. Until then, he had been completely lucid.

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