Dear Thelma: My mum keeps falling for online love scams and has parted with most of her money

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Those contemplating suicide can reach out to the Mental Health Psychosocial Support Service (03-2935 9935 / 014-322 3392); Talian Kasih (15999 / 019-261 5999 on WhatsApp); Jakim’s family, social and community care centre (0111-959 8214 on WhatsApp); or Befrienders Kuala Lumpur (03-7627 2929 / email / Befrienders centres).

Dear Thelma,

I am the only child in a single-parent family.

My mum is 65 years old. For the past few years, my mum kept trying to find love online. She has given more than RM100,000 to eight different scammers. I only found out after seeing the receipts to African names in 2020. I was heartbroken to know she had lied to me all this time.

For a decade now, I have been telling her to be careful and not give any money away. It doesn't matter if I talk nicely, or cry, or beg, she would stonewall or scold me, saying she has a master's degree from overseas and she is not stupid.

After I found the evidence and confronted her to stop, she was mad that I had intruded into her privacy, saying I am stopping her from finding happiness and love in life.

I never stopped her from dating. When I was growing up (from age 14 to 18), and she was at home with a guy, I had to stay out of the house – I would spend time strolling in the malls.

After I had worked for five years, I paid for most of the expenses at home, also for her new clothes and bags. I also give her a monthly allowance that is enough for her to live comfortably.

I have also found out that she paid for her dead lover's son's education (in the US). All information about the son looked photoshopped.

And she is still using online dating apps. I have tried to tell her many times that I'm concerned if in future one of us falls ill; we need to have savings for medical bills. Very soon, she will not have any savings left if she continues the way she does, but she never listens to me.

Whenever I try to express my concern, she would argue that she nearly died when delivering me, the hardship she faced in bringing me up as a single parent, how she paid for my education, and would accuse me of abandoning her in her old age. She hardly apologises and must always win an argument.

My father lost a divorce court case and some money was given for my education – I utilised 80%, and the rest was given to her.

I have been crying most nights, worried we will fall back into poverty. I lost 9kg in the past year.

Recently, I tried to tell her I was feeling unwell, and she cut me off several times to answer her first and after that she never asked about me again.

With her, I am always feeling unheard and taken for granted. I don't know what else I can do to cope with the current situation. Please help.

The only child

While I'm awfully sorry you're in this position, I am thankful you wrote in because it's a question that many struggle with.

Your mother is determined to give her money to scammers. She makes the same decision over and over again. At this rate, she will be bankrupt. And as your finances are tied to hers, she will bankrupt you too. No wonder this is making you ill!

Practical action depends largely on competence. Competency refers to a person's ability to make responsible decisions on important matters. This includes medical care, finance and so on.

In competence cases, assessment is carried out by doctors and mental health professionals. Their findings are then presented to a court, and a judge decides whether a person is competent or not.

If a person is deemed not be competent, a judge can appoint a caretaker.

This is not something that is done lightly. Common reasons for courts to declare a person incompetent includes a person incapacitated by dementia such as Alzheimer's disease and or delusions such as you might see in untreated psychoses disorders.

As your mum is elderly, do you think this issue is due to some form of illness or condition? If yes, talk to a doctor or lawyer, preferably both so that you know how the process works. Should she be found to be not competent, you may be assigned to care for her. This may include organising her finances, her medical care, or even choosing where she lives.

Note: the Alzheimer's Disease Foundation Malaysia (ADFM) may be helpful too (phone: 03-7931 5850).

If your mum is competent, then you're a bit stuck for action. People make daft decisions all the time, and although we can advise them, we can't run their lives for them. You discovered this because no matter how much you talk, your mum is determined to repeat her mistakes.

You have tried to warn her, and she knows she has been conned before. A sensible person would listen and make effective change.

Your mother is neither sensible nor kind. She uses anger as a stick to beat you with, and then guilts you with cries of being abandoned. Yes, you are her child. But you are not an insurance plan.

Frankly, your mother makes her own problems.

All I can say to you, my dear, is that you can't let her drag you down. Scammers are merciless. They'll pick her clean and then they'll make her pick you clean too. Don't let this situation end up with your mother bankrupting you!

Tell your mother once more that she's going to end up on the street, and warn her that you won't be there to rescue her. If you can, get a social worker or a police officer to talk to her too. I don't expect her to listen, but you should try it anyway.

Whatever happens, go live your own life. Save money for a happy, safe retirement for yourself. Don't listen to more of her sob stories. Don't let her guilt you.

This may be hard for you as you have been subject to her bullying for years. Therefore, it may help you to invest in a few sessions with a mental health professional. Pick someone who deals with abuse victims. They can help you shrug off the bullying and the misplaced guilt that comes with it.

Again, I'm sorry you are stuck in this awful situation. I will be thinking of you.

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