Should I speak up or shut up?
June 15, 2016 2:29 PM   Subscribe

I have a family member that, in my eyes, is far too trusting. This has led him into some problems (large and small) in the past and he's in the middle of one of these situations now. He's lost some money to people in the past that he's considered friends, but whom he didn't actually know well. But he's got money to spare. There is little chance that he will end up totally destitute by trusting a con artist in the future. Should I just butt out?

I love this family member very much. As far as I know, he is completely mentally competent, and like most people, has his areas of expertise and knowledge, and has areas where he's not as strong. He's in his mid-twenties and his parents are no longer alive. He tends to overstate his relationship with people, calling people "close friends" who are better described as acquaintances. He's a New Agey type, doesn't trust modern medicine, and tends to believe anything said by someone he trusts, a friend, a Youtube "teacher," but avoids the news as it's "negative and depressing."

An illustration: I suggested he see a therapist because he had some feelings of grief that kept coming up around his parents' deaths, and not trusting medicine or something, he paid a "friend" who lives across the country that he met at an event whom he hadn't spoken to in a few years $80/hr to talk with him. He complained to me that the friend took up some of the hour with talk about his own problems and was a downer. I told him that since he has insurance he'd pay less than $80/hour to meet with a licensed therapist face to face, and it is a friend's job to listen for free.

When he told the guy it was too much money and he was going to stop the arrangement, the guy (occupation: waiter btw) got a bit salty and severed the relationship. My dilemma: he was mostly satisfied with the arrangement and I felt that by drawing attention to the really bad situation, I made him unhappy, but he's never blamed me or said he wished I hadn't said anything. I just FEEL like he was happier before.

Once, he left his checkbook in my car and needed his banking info for a new job. He wanted me to call and leave his routing number and bank account number on the voicemail for the new job. I told him I'd text it to him, but that he should be careful with his bank acct info and SSN and that anyone could access the number (15-20 employees plus numerous clients). Response: "Okay."

This has happened with various amounts of money and people, I'd say about $45,000-$50,000 in the last couple of years (and that's not including ill-advised legitimate purchases), but he has millions in trust, so could do this for quite some time. If he lost everything, he'd be fine, as he lives pretty frugally and still works part time jobs off-and-on for fun. I've pointed out these bad situations, sometimes he's persevered (where he trusts the person), sometimes he's stopped at my recommendation. He's in the hole about $3,000 on a thing now that may or may pan out, but he says "I'll never do it like this again." Some part of him realizes that some of these situations are not legit. Some people that he's helping are vipers and he still trusts them.

Can I help him be more skeptical/ learn to gather more information first? Might he learn if left to his own devices? If there's no greater harm (like he might be left penniless), should I just butt out? Should I just not comment if he brings up money or a questionable person or situation? Should I ask him not to ever bring them up?
posted by serenity_now to Human Relations (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The problem, IMHO, is not in spite of the trust account, it's because of the trust account. As long as that million is sitting there in the bank he's going to be naive and soft about human nature. That's the curse of the (young) rich.

If he were actually living solely off earned income he would probably develop into a much more practical and worldly person fairly quickly. But if he's not willing to give up access to the trust, there's no way for him to really learn this lesson.
posted by quincunx at 2:33 PM on June 15, 2016 [6 favorites]

I think if your family member is complaining to you and/or asking your advice, it is perfectly fine to respond honestly with your perception of the situation. This gives your relative the opportunity to stop complaining/asking advice if he prefers not to know what you think. But I don't think you have to lie just to save his feelings.

I wouldn't offer unsolicited opinions unless it truly is a serious situation (where the person is losing their life savings/putting their health in serious danger, etc. -- does not sound like that's the case here).
posted by rainbowbrite at 2:35 PM on June 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

I think you should keep doing exactly what you're doing. It sounds as if you have a strong relationship with him, that he trusts you and reaches out to you, and that you've helped him successfully in the past. Perhaps I am misinterpreting the question, but he is still very young, and seems to be becoming less credulous with time and your help. Keep your loving eye on him (like you are already), welcome any requests for advice from him, and watch him grow up and continue learning how to navigate this.
posted by sallybrown at 2:36 PM on June 15, 2016 [5 favorites]

Something else that occurred to me: Who is the trust adviser? Might you be able to suggest he employ this person or some other type of financial planner? He's probably more likely to listen to the person controlling the money, just honestly. Advice from well-meaning friends is one thing and advice from a guy who is seeing your dividends plummet (or whatever) is another.
posted by quincunx at 2:44 PM on June 15, 2016 [6 favorites]

I think this depends how close a relative this is. If this was my brother, for example, you better believe I'd be calling him up, telling him what a bonehead he's being about money and friendships, and trying to convince him to get real therapy etc. But if it's a distant cousin or something, I don't know, it's his money and his life and the only way you learn is by making mistakes.

It's also hard to tell because a lot of this sounds like garden variety bad ideas or ways he's not being careful or diligent, and not so much falling for actual con artists. You can't make your relatives do things how you'd do them in order to manage their money better. I mean, it sounds like he's been aggressively dumb (how do you even lose $50K over a couple years by not paying good attention?), but assuming we're not talking about actual crime, if he wants to be stupid about money that's his prerogative.

FWIW I would not take it well if family was seeking me out to lecture me about how I'd chosen to spend ~$3K unless it was happening constantly. (Even as someone of much more modest means than your relative.) I had a similar amount of extra money last year that I used to go backpacking through Europe. I'd have been really frustrated if I was constantly having people coming out of the woodwork telling me I was doing it wrong, I should have saved that money, etc. Or, like, why are you investing in business X when you could have put the money in an IRA, or why are you buying car Y when you could get a bus pass and save towards a house, etc etc etc etc. It's none of their business.
posted by Sara C. at 2:51 PM on June 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

Yeah, he needs a financial planner. If you know about these pickles he's gotten into because he has told you, you might as well suggest it. I don't think there's any point questioning this or that expenditure; he just needs to get his house in order and figure out a budget for the year, and then he can blow it as he likes. Unfortunately a lot of people can sniff out someone with a trust fund and they will take advantage, very big time but he needs to not get involved in any disastrous business deals or similar.
posted by BibiRose at 2:59 PM on June 15, 2016

Best answer: About the routing number: I am texting it to you because I'm worried about it on an answering machine multiple people have access to.

On the friend charging: Oh my friends listen for free. I also have a great therapist I pay 30 dollars an hour after insurance. She's qualified and has really helped me.

You can state your opinion without giving advice. Don't tell him what you think he should do unless he asks or it is more of a danger than the friend example.
posted by Kalmya at 3:13 PM on June 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: There is little chance that he will end up totally destitute by trusting a con artist in the future.

I think there is quite a large chance, from what you've described. ($40-50k in a couple of years, given away to people?) A guy in his 20s with a trust fund and no parents is really vulnerable. I've seen this happen and it's not just the amounts of money, it's people who are taking advantage doing a head trip on the person. I don't think you're in a position to talk him out of any of these activities, though.
posted by BibiRose at 3:33 PM on June 15, 2016 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Maybe try introducing him to media about scams/con artists?

Catch me if you can, the Grifters, and Ocean's 11 (old and new) are all legit good movies in their own right, so you wouldn't even have to bring it up as "this is homework", just suggest watching one, and see what he thinks about it.
posted by sparklemotion at 4:10 PM on June 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

Best answer: If media about con artists turns out to be appropriate, I've heard good things about the new book by Maria Konnikova, The Confidence Game.
posted by matildaben at 4:14 PM on June 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The major point of many trusts of this sort is to protect the beneficiary from their own financial shortcomings. If the trust is doing that job, you don't need to worry much. Be there for him emotionally and help him recognise when getting messed around hurts him in ways that matter to him. You can tell him fully what you think when he asks, and be honest with him in a more restrained way even if he doesn't ask, but he's going to have to work out for himself what he should or shouldn't waste his money on. Be what you are, a loving, supportive and patient relative.

If the trust fund is less well set-up for the purpose of protecting him, you might want to do as others have suggested, and encourage him to seek advice about getting his capital well secured. The emotional lessons are, ultimately, the sort that one just has to learn on one's twenties, but the protection that he has against future illness etc is worth having, and he would be well-advised to protect his future self against misjudgement now.
posted by howfar at 4:34 PM on June 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The primary problem is that your relative has lost his parents and is desparate for close relationships; so much so that as soon as any one gets remotely close he over states the relationship. Can you help him by including him in your trusted circle of friends and trying to be a better friend/relation? Are there trustworthy elders in your family who can be encouraged to reach out and embrace him more often?

I'm just struck by how terribly sad and lonely your relation sounds.
posted by zia at 2:09 AM on June 16, 2016 [12 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for everything so far. I want to respond to zia first. I'm really trying. He has people in his life that I consider trustworthy as well, but he doesn't seem to be as close with them, maybe because they aren't as flattering and ingratiating. I'm not sure if he understands that people pushing to get close fast usually means their intentions aren't as good. I don't think it's all about money, either. For people that don't know he has it, he is still very willing to help out in other ways, and generous with his time and labor. There's a lot in what you said, because most of these people are much older than he is, so it does seem like he's chasing parental figures. Some family is close, but some of them are further away, so there isn't a large familial support system, but he has joined facebook recently and is in touch with more of the family now.

He has full access to the trust, but I'm not sure if he would be willing to give it up. I don't think he sees his behavior as a problem (on the whole), so I don't think he would take huge steps to curb it.

And to clarify, I'm not seeking him out to lecture him about his spending, it often comes up in conversation, either because he is excited about what he's spent money on, or he has misgivings about a situation. For instance with the $3k: he's buying some goods internationally from an individual, which I honestly don't think he'll ever receive (he doesn't have so much as a receipt or email confirmation, all this business is taking place via phone and PO box mailings) even though he's shelled out over $3k by mail. He asked me to drop him by the post office so he could mail $500, so I told him that mailing cash is a bad idea. He told me that the guy had insisted he mail cash and he trusts him, and got more than a little annoyed with me. I really want him to not give me details or ask advice because he seems so determined to throw money away. Back to zia's point, he and the guy (who is in his 60s) have been talking over the telephone about things other than the goods, which has seemed companionable and he's really enjoyed it, but it's hard to watch. It's totally possible that the goods will be delivered but not probable as this has been going on nearly two years now.

It's not that I don't want him to trust people or spend money, but I want him to learn how to read people and situations better, and spend in ways so that he can be protected. Either that, or stop telling me about these sketchy people and situations that I could never approve of.
posted by serenity_now at 9:52 AM on June 16, 2016

He has full access to the trust, but I'm not sure if he would be willing to give it up. I don't think he sees his behavior as a problem (on the whole), so I don't think he would take huge steps to curb it.

He doesn't have to give up control. If he has a few million, he can get someone to help him with setting a target for retirement and then invest the money with a goal that's balanced between growth and generating income. That way he can be living on $x per year and if someone asks for a ton of money, he can say no based on that. At his age, he may well think that's a waste of time but you can plant the seed. At some point he may see his net worth drop a lot from market fluctuations or something and be more ready to get advice.

A lot of people think a financial adviser will try to keep you from spending money or control how you spend it. That's not the case unless you ask them to do it.

With people of my acquaintance, the really irreversible damage has been done not just by giving money away, but by getting involved in business deals which created liabilities, and stuff like that. Hopefully, a few people discussed that kind of stuff with him when he inherited the money, but at the time, it may have gone in one ear and out the other.
posted by BibiRose at 10:40 AM on June 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have a bit of a different take on this. Your family member has a large amount of completely unearned money. What is wrong with them being open to freely giving it away to people? I used to be pretty hard up for money, and regularly saw people do some pretty terrible things to get by. Now that I'm comfortable, I frequently get pitched by people for money in exactly the types of ways you describe. Loose ideas, products/services likely to never be delivered, 'borrowing' money that they really can never pay back, etc etc... My approach is so long as the amount is not too high, and the frequency not too often, I'm happy to give it. If I never get anything back, I consider it charity for someone who clearly needed it more than I, and continue on my way.

It sounds like this person has a big heart and is willing to share in their amazingly good fortune in inheriting wealth. I would leave them be, unless the amount becomes outrageous. You said there is little chance of them coming to real harm, so I think the fact you feel a right and need to approve or disapprove of how someone else approaches their own money sounds like the real problem here.
posted by milnickel at 10:55 AM on June 16, 2016

My boss is like this, and a few years back he was constantly taken advantage of by people with a sweet tongue who seemed nice or had a good sob story. As our business expanded and the expenses grew, he has had to keep a closer look at his finances and is now a little more careful. I consider him a friend, and if something seems shady I will mention it to him, but ultimately it is his choice. If it bothers you and you don't want to talk about it with him (either because you don't feel it's your place or because it happens so often) I would suggest that you sit down with him and ask him that he keep you out of the loop when it comes to financials, and change the subject if he brings it up again.
posted by cobain_angel at 11:17 AM on June 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

BibiRose is right; he is effectively retired. You use vagaries in your OP like "he can do this for a long time" and "he has millions" and "he'll be okay because he lives frugally and works part time."

All of that is super, super vague and it makes me really uncomfortable because being vague with large amount of money is exactly how people lose it.

He is effectively retired and should be treating his money that way (no, working "part time" does not really count- he's retired. At age 25 or whatever. Using euphemisms is not going to help.)

Thus, he needs to approach his money as he would a retired person living off a set amount, expecting x% inflation, expecting x% market fluctuation, etc. If he hasn't even thought about this- he's like "Inflation? Huh? What?" that's baaaaad. I get that most 25 year olds DNGAF about inflation, but most 60 year olds do because they will shortly be living off a retirement account. He needs to get in that mindspace of a 60 year old pensioner, ASAP, because that's basically what he is.
posted by quincunx at 11:18 AM on June 16, 2016 [4 favorites]

I grew up with people who would take all his money. Professional 'Friends' .. these are not good guys, but they are real, they are out there looking exactly for this kid.

I'd advise him about atypical investments like skate teams, base jumpers, independent films. Things cool new people in his life just Happppen to need money for.

A guy I went to college with had over 6 million in trust and was bankrupt before he hit 30 because of these types of friends. He was a producer to here him tell it.
posted by French Fry at 1:35 PM on June 16, 2016 [4 favorites]

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