Readers of the Maine Sunday Telegram from as far away as Scotland and Hong Kong have offered to send money to help an elderly couple who were financially exploited by their son and daughter-in-law.
After reading the Telegram story Sunday about the plight of Cedric and Pauline Long of Camden and the small indulgences they are skipping to save money – such as keeping a National Geographic magazine subscription or going out to breakfast now and then – people rallied to donate money, magazines and gift cards.
Of the three dozen people who contacted the newspaper offering to help the couple, some said they were touched by the Longs’ story. Others said they felt connected to the Longs because they had experienced situations in which relatives exploited elderly family members.
Stefa Normantas of Saco, who owns an event management company, said her father was financially exploited by a relative. To help raise money for the Longs, she created a page on GoFundMe, a crowdsourcing website. Any money raised through the site will be handled by the Longs’ attorney, who will ensure that the money gets to them.
The site, gofundme.com/57hswo, aims to raise $500 for the couple. As of early Wednesday afternoon, $2,300 had been raised.
“We had an elderly parent and a trusted relative who exploited him,” Normantas said. “It’s too late in my family situation. But this hit a nerve. Even if I just raise even money for them to buy a few tools or a subscription or a chance to have a nice meal together, at least I can try to lighten their load.”
Normantas said that in her family, a relative isolated her father, changed the locks on his home and tried to keep other relatives away while taking control of his financial assets.
“We were so naive that we didn’t know what was happening. … We were slow to catch on because it was a family member doing this. When it’s someone you trust completely, you don’t connect the dots until it’s too late,” she said. “My father died, but we’re still not over the betrayal he suffered.”
Ken Quirion, a retired fire investigator from Winslow, said he was moved to help the Longs when he read how they had worked for their whole lives and been so generous to their children, only to have their home equity – their safety net – taken from them by a son and daughter-in-law.
“I like to help people who really need it,” Quirion said. “I can’t even conceive of being taken advantage of by your own family. That’s a double whammy. To have their own home – probably the prize possession of their life – targeted. That’s too much.”
Pauline Long said she was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and kindness.
“We didn’t do this to get help. We did it for others, so they wouldn’t get hurt,” said Long, who said she spent much of the day crying because she was so touched by the kindness of strangers. “It’s overwhelming to me. We’re not the kind of people who ask for help. We didn’t expect this. It’s just so kind.”
Cedric Long, 81, and Pauline Long, 82, are a public face of an often-private problem: financial abuse and exploitation at the hands of a family member. The Maine Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 33,000 Mainers are swindled by family members every year.
Nationally, about 72 percent of financial exploitation cases involve family members, and the loss among elders nationwide has been estimated at nearly $3 billion a year.
In 2007, the value of the Longs’ modest two-story home in Camden was stripped by their son and daughter-in-law, Gary and Deborah Long of North Attleboro, Mass., according to a civil complaint filed in Knox County Superior Court.
The younger Longs got $164,000 that put their parents’ home on the line. The parents thought they were giving their children a six-month loan, the lawsuit says.
Facing foreclosure, the older Longs now are paying $926 a month to stay in the home they paid off decades ago. They live on a fixed income of Social Security, which totals $2,094 a month.
Legally, the transfer of the home’s equity to the younger Longs was within the parameters of Maine’s Improvident Transfer of Title Act. The act creates a presumption of “undue influence” in any transfer of real estate, for less than full consideration, by an elderly person to an individual with whom that person has a confidential or fiduciary relationship, including a family relationship.
The stripping of equity from the home also constituted abuse of a confidential relationship, unjust enrichment and intentional infliction of emotional distress, among other charges, according to the lawsuit.
Deborah and Gary Long failed to respond to the lawsuit, so a default judgment was issued, making them liable for the $164,000 loan, plus interest. But the younger Longs have been through bankruptcy and collecting the money may be difficult.
Deborah Long previously referred questions about the loan to her father-in-law and refused to comment. Gary Long did not return calls seeking comment.
Jessica Hall can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:
CORRECTION: This story was updated at 5:22 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 15, 2013 to correct the Longs’ monthly Social Security income.