As much as your friends and family would love to protect you, it’s really your own job to avoid being betrayed financially, as you’re the one who has all the clues. Be your own detective regarding financially improper or criminal behavior.
But how do you read those clues, and what should you be looking for? My guess is that my readers have a number of ideas, and I’d love to hear them. I offer suggestions I’ve gleaned from my clients who have learned the hard way.
CLUES:1. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I can’t emphasize this one enough. LOOK AT YOUR TAX RETURNS. I mean really look at them, not just long enough to follow your spouse’s finger to the line on which you should sign. You might not understand them, and that’s okay. First ask your spouse what certain things mean. If your spouse becomes belligerent or defensive, that may very well indicate something’s wrong. If that doesn’t go well, or you’re still suspicious, call your accountant. If you don’t trust her, call your own accountant and buy an hour of her time. It may cost in the short run, but what it saves you could be more than you might have thought possible.
2. Let’s say your husband bought you that $3500 purse you’ve been just longing for–with cash. Your antennae should go up. If you find your spouse funding very expensive purchases with cash, that may very well be laundering money. Do not ignore such expenditures.
3. Make sure that important documents—life insurance papers, certificates of deposit, brokerage statements—are available for you to see at any time. If your spouse is resistant to this, that’s a clue, detective.
4. Don’t be the person who says, “I don’t get it. I don’t know anything about finances.” Don’t take pride in willful ignorance. It could cost you in many many ways. If you don’t understand something in the financial realm, use the library or internet, ask friends, or buy an hour of an accountant’s time and ask for an explanation.
5. Let’s return to the story of Louise and Lancelot–who turned out to be just plain Louie. If you’re dating and someone throws fairy dust in your eyes with all kinds of fancy stuff, beware, especially if you’re in a vulnerable financial situation yourself. Yes, if he lends you his credit card, fills up the car with roses on his way to pick you up, and seems to have bought stock in Godiva–that is heavy-duty financial persuasion to win you over, and you should beware.
6. And while we’re on the topic of Louise and Louie: If a person you are dating has no credit cards, be suspicious. Why would that be, you’ve got to ask? And, if you’re honest in your answer, you’d probably posit that it might have something to do with their being unable to handle money.
7. Notice well what kind of friends/associates your new love has. Ask yourself: Are these people I would admire and trust, or do they make me nervous. Be honest with yourself–if the new man in your life presents as a financial hotshot, but all his friends are lowlives, the situation simply doesn’t compute.
8. All major purchases—cars, large pieces of furniture, timeshares, large payments to adult children, loans to friends—should be discussed before any money changes hands. If you find yourself being left out of these transactions, you need to figure out why–and what to do about it.
And as you’re honing your detective skills, become aware of a few other signs that something’s just not right. If where your wife says she’s going and the computed mileage on the car are vastly different, think about what that might mean. And remember Jane of the gambling boats, whose story of her whereabouts simply couldn’t have been true, as her husband suspected? Well, that’s telling. Small lies multiply. People might turn out to be somewhere else than where they told you. Use your common sense.
Common sense, more than anything else, can help you avoid getting taken to the cleaners, the poorhouse, or worse–to jail.