When it comes to love and relationships, we are particularly protective of our elders. We scrutinize new companions who come into their lives; when our kupuna decide to marry, we get concerned about the new partner’s intentions.

Stephanie (not her real name) called my office, she was panicked. She just discovered a life her father had kept secret from her; he married a woman 30 years his junior recently; did not live with her; paid her rent and car payments; and that they met at a bar she worked. This upset Stephanie so much that she could only envision her father as being a helpless victim to a predatory vixen, she was calling to see if this new wife could be arrested for financial exploitation.

Stephanie did not initially see the fact that her father was a competent, lonely, older man who lost his wife a couple of years ago and liked the attention given him by this bar hostess. Although this May/December relationship greatly benefited the wife financially, Stephanie’s father consciously knew the true nature of the relationship, and was more than willing to continue this marriage. After speaking to Stephanie, she understood that because her father wanted the marriage as it was, a crime did not occur, and there were no grounds for prosecution.

Our office has been receiving more calls like this from family members or friends who are worried that a senior — seemingly competent in all other aspects of their life — are now an unwitting dupes for a gold digger.

Although these relationships have the telltale signs of financial abuse, if one were to ask the “victims” if they feel exploited — many would reply just the opposite.

Having said this, however, does not mean that all such unions should be viewed as a mutually-benefiting relationship for both spouses. There are, in fact relationships where these sham marriages can turn into abuse, harming the older spouse not only financially, but physically if the senior suffers from disabilities that are not being addressed by the spouse.

In trying to determine whether or not a marriage is a case of love or is harmful to the older partner, one should be aware of the following warning signs:

  • Isolation: When someone is attempting to execute a scam, the less people involved the better. It is common for predators to isolate their victims from their families and loved ones. Be involved in the lives of your Kupuna and check in often.
  • Loneliness: Those who are potential victims of sham marriages are often lonely and seeking companionship. This makes them increasingly vulnerable. Stay involved and help your Kupuna to find healthy companionship. Help them to get involved in community activities, take classes, or find a new hobby.
  • Ulterior Motives: Be cautious when the individual you are seeing has a little too much to gain through this marriage. Are they non-residents? Are they in need of a green card? Are they financially unstable?

Marriage should be a sacred bond built upon love and friendship. Unfortunately to some, marriage transforms into a dollar sign, a green card, or even a benefits package. Stay involved in your parent’s lives. The best way to protect your parents from sham marriages is to prevent them from loneliness and isolation — feeling the need to seek companionship from others that may not have their best interests at heart.

To report suspected elder abuse, contact the Elder Abuse Unit at: 808-768-7536 | ElderAbuse@honolulu.gov