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Note: the text uses "they" when talking about the person in question to preserve anonymity.

A few years ago I was living with a close relative of mine and their parents, and I became aware that the relative was involved in some sort of a cult/sect. Relative was claiming that they were learning to heal people from distance. Tuition was apparently costly, as relative emptied the bank account which stored inheritance from my grandparents (a significant sum, approximately 30 of the relative's current monthly salaries). They were forced to reveal that when I told them I needed that money.

Saying that I was shocked would be an understatement. I was furious, felt that the relative was a grandiose idiot, and I did not want to have anything to do with them. I asked them a few times to give me access to their bank account history, but they refused, claiming though that they had broken up with the cult. I did not keep pressing, but instead moved out and ceased talking to them for a year. The relative kept living with their parents at the same place, who also knew about the situation. After that year, I approached them and told them I had thought it had been cruel to break contact, and I wanted to restore it.

A few days ago the relative approached me and told me they had multiple loans open, had already failed to meet some of their payment deadlines, and that particular day was the final deadline for the late payments the banks had agreed on, after which the matter would have been taken to court. They asked me to cover those payments.

I'm making more than the average salary, and I have significant savings, so I could do that. However, I refused, saying that I did not want to pay for their stupidity. Instead, I started digging into their debts, using the fact that they came to me themselves, and therefore were (somewhat) willing to open up. It looked like this:

"Write down a table of all banks, organisations, and people you owe money to, with names, dates, and amounts." "But why would you need that." "If you keep protesting, I'm getting up and leaving." they say something, I get up and leave, then return 20 minutes later "The table has only initials. Write down the full names." "Can you explain why you need those?" "I do. And you aren't really in a position to negotiate."

It turned out way worse than I had imagined, as the total amount of their debt was approximately 80 times their monthly salaries, and aside from loans included some people and organisations the relative had borrowed money from. I questioned the relative on each of them, and it turned out that some of those sources were quite shady, and one was shady enough for me to decide to pay back to him right away for the sake of safety of the parents of the relative (who still lived there).

The next day after I figured out the picture, I sought help from a lawyer. He advised me to find all legally binding documents that mentioned the debts of the relative (loan agreements, etc) and send those to him. I told the relative about that request. With the air of confidence the relative claimed that they "had everything in order".

I was shocked yet again and attempted to remind them that they had enormous debt. They kept reiterating about everything being in order. I threatened to tell everything to their parents (who the relative had asked me not to involve due to their heart problems). They said go ahead. I freaked out and slapped the relative on the face, then told everything to their parents.

The three of us confronted the relative, but they were telling nothing at all. "Show us your bank account history." "Why do I have to?" "Because we know you are deeply in debt." "I won't show you anything." After maybe 20 minutes of interrogation they at least admitted that they had had the debt I had paid for the day before. "Well, I had one debt, it's covered, now I don't have any." Feeling like an impediment (I was way too furious, although I kept quiet most of the time), I left after a while with the relative's mother, leaving them alone with their father. On his own, he managed to get nothing either, despite his interpersonal skills significantly surpassing mine or his wife's.

(added later) I have also received messages on social media from people the relative owns money to. They intend to go to court in a few days. The name matches exactly to what the relative told me; the amount matches approximately, but that looks very much like rounding.

I still have a very vague idea about the relative's income, savings, open bank accounts, and only a moderately good idea of their debt structure. Their current monthly loan payment is twice as large as their salary. They owe money to more than 10 entities. Many of those payments are long overdue. I also believe that in the day between I interrogated them and they told me they "had everything in order" they got into another debt.

I am strongly tempted to leave the relative to deal with their own problems. Unfortunately, this will mean the parents of the relative will see those problems too. But I can only assist if the relative cooperates, which they defiantly don't do.

I don't really want to work for the well-being of the relative. However, at the very least, I want to ensure the safety of their parents, which includes finding out all potential causes of danger and eliminating them or targeting them at the relative only. With regards to more details on potential causes that I have already been told about, I am somewhat at a loss, as I feel I cannot share more than I have.

Secondly, I want to minimise investment of my time and money in this.

Ideally, I would want the relative to acknowledge the fact that they are in trouble, open up, and accept (legal, not financial) help, because that will make their parents happier. The parents fully comprehend the situation, but they are not very good at taking active action, which leaves me as the person to intervene.

Also, I think it's pretty obvious from the above that I do not control well my emotions, so I will have to either minimise my direct involvement, or to change my attitude somehow.

What can I do to achieve these goals?


Some ideas on leverage that I have:

  1. The relative has social network accounts with >100 friends. I can reach out to (some of) them and tell them about the situation.
  2. I still have the list of the people and organisations the relative owes money to. Those are just first names (I am now regretting I did not press for last names too), but that's enough to find them through the relative's friend lists on social networks.
  3. The relative keeps two laptops at home with unencrypted hard drives, and has an Android phone. While both laptops have Windows and are password-protected, I can still copy their hard drive contents, and with some luck, get access to their Google account, from which I can get their contact list and location history. Or I can simply do that while they are at home but not at their laptop, as they do not have a habit of locking the screen.
  4. I could talk to the relative's parents to force the relative out of the house. The parents are unlikely to agree to that, though.
  5. Since the parents are fully aware of the situation, they intend not to sponsor the relative in any way.

Also, the relative has a sibling who shows identical symptoms (was involved in the same cult years ago, has not been seen interacting with it since, does not bring any money home). The sibling is married and lives separately; their spouse is aware of the situation with my relative, but has no extra information about the sibling. The spouse was shocked to hear the story from me and promised to have a conversation with the sibling after the spouse's planned vacation.


Response to comments:

You helped them, then all the sudden they didn't need or want your help anymore. They refused to offer any actual documents or proof that their story was legitimate, for a reason.

I have reasons to believe and not believe this.

  • The relative has never been caught on an elaborate lie. All lies are always simple: "I have no debt" instead of "I've received an unexpected gift from someone I've been dating for a couple of weeks, which was enough to cover me for the time being". During my interrogation, I was insisting on details, which they are bad at making up (or so good they've never been caught).
  • One detail from the story about the particular debt I repaid checked out (I was able to independently verify some documents).
  • Furthermore, initially the relative was asking me to repay a different debt, one that was due to their late loan payments, and only after going through the entire list I decided that that particular one should be covered ASAP.
  • However, in order to repay that debt, I made a card-to-card transfer, to a card whose number the relative dictated for me. After I made the transfer, they got their phone and told me that they texted about the fact to their creditor. I have not seen the messages, and I don't know who the card belongs to. Probably I should have demanded more proof that that number was indeed the right one; however, the relative is strongly averse to questioning their actions (and has been so for as long as I remember), so I'm not sure how that demand would have played out.

I decided to mark the answer by @YElm as accepted, since they provide multiple specific strategies I can adopt. However, I am still on lookout for any good ideas, and would be grateful for them.

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    Welcome to IPS! You have a good question with ample information, but unfortunately asking "What should I do?" is off topic here. Your question should ask for help achieving a specific goal. Your question is asking for personal advice on "what to do" without defining a goal; this is too subjective. Edit your question to explain what you hope to achieve and how you want to interact with your relative / their parents. Thanks! – enlighten_me Jun 22 '18 at 1:39
  • It's currently not a "what should I do" question anymore, as the goal is "to help their parents", but I think that's far too broad still. – Belle Jun 22 '18 at 10:11
  • I have edited the text to include more specific questions. The previous edit (the one about helping the parents) was not mine; it was clarifying the question a little, but indeed insufficiently. – Asang Jun 22 '18 at 14:17
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    Some of these issues may be culturally dependent - you might consider giving location information. For example, your idea of getting access to their Google account may well be illegal in some countries. – Geoffrey Brent Jun 22 '18 at 20:51
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    Can you please add cultural or country tag? – Ahsan Jun 26 '18 at 10:20
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How I see it, this is a typical "give a man a fish vs. teach him how to fish" situation. You just gave your relative a fish. Stop doing that.

Your relative shows a behavior typical to addicts - drug addicts, shopping addicts, gambling addicts, maybe they are addicted to this cult/sect.

The ideal thing would be for them to admit to themselves that they have a problem and need help. You prevented / delayed that insight by delaying the point where they cannot keep going on like before - the day of legal consequences. Unfortunately, most people with addictions or compulsive behavior have to hit this very painful point of no going on before they accept any healp - real help. (As you correctly recognized, monetary help does not help this person at all)

Until the big day of self-recognition comes, you can do the following:

  • Under no circumstances, except to prevent them starving, loan any money to them.
  • Do nothing that will deteriorate their friendships or relationships with people and family like outing their financial situation in social media. Socially isolating addicts will most likely worsen their situation. If they cannot turn to a friend in a dire situation, they will turn to false friends or shady people. If they feel all alone and worthless, they might add depression to their list of problems.
  • Tell them that you support them however you can except giving money. Repeat it regularily. Include the parents and maybe their best friends in your little support group. Make sure they are always aware that there are people who still love them. Give them the feeling they are still part of the family, even in their current situation.
  • Try finding professional help for them like a lawyer or a financial consultant. Strongly and insistently advice them to accept, but keep in mind that you cannot force them. Use professional help in their stead to learn of ways to prevent the situation from getting worse.

Phrase your advice of professional help in a positive manner:

S/He can help you have a better life without all those people constantly pestering you about your dept.
Imagine how free you will feel without this burden on your shoulders.
It's not a shame seeking help. Its proof that you are strong-willed enough to dig yourself out of this mess instead of ignoring the problem.
You are not alone in this, we will help you.

Whether or not you try contacting the people your relative has loaned money from is your own decision. I cannot give you any advice in good conscience on that.

I wish you both the best of luck.

  • Legal consequences were not delayed. I've received a message from one of their creditors on a social network, who say they intend to go to court in a few days. The relative keeps ignoring any attempts at contact. – Asang Jun 22 '18 at 20:20
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    Your relative ran up 110 months salary worth of debt in a few years. There's nothing you can do financially. You can only wait for him to contact you. – gnasher729 Jun 22 '18 at 21:59
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What sort of bank lends money without collateral, or ability to repay, for something like this? The whole thing sounds sketchy and there's likely big pieces that you still don't know.

My experience with these weird "I owe a lot of people a lot of money, some of whom may break my legs for it" comes from some really dark times in my life... The people I knew who had these problems were typically junkies and gamblers.

Probably sufficient to say that to get in that far, the person borrowing the money needs to be a pretty effective scammer/hustler to achieve the kind of debts you're talking about. It takes a good deal of game to get several people to part with large sums of money.

Which brings me to the most likely and most unfortunate conclusion. It's a lot more likely that you're the one they're trying to hustle.

I have this elaborate and unbelievable sob story, help me out fam. They're going to hurt me if I don't pay them back...

Which is precisely the sort of story that led you to help them. You helped them, then all the sudden they didn't need or want your help anymore. They refused to offer any actual documents or proof that their story was legitimate, for a reason. They blew through a heap of money, on something, needed more, you gave them more, so they're good for the time being.

Pro-tip: banks don't lend money to hustlers unless they're exceptionally good. It's much easier to hustle family members who are emotionally invested.

...things people like me know that regular folks shouldn't need to know... Don't be like me kids.


I know it's a little late, but I just realized that I threw a giant red flag without telling you what to do about it...

Take a step back, wait, and watch.

I know it'll sound awful, but letting your family member flounder is probably the better course, if you really want to help them. Feeling the weight of poor choices is often the only thing that forces some people to make better choices.

It sounds cruel on the surface, and they will definitely feel/tell you that it is, but do you want to help, or enable them to keep doing what they've been doing?

I absolutely know it is painful, but let them fail. Let them suffer until it hurts enough to do something else.

Some things are self teaching. You don't really need to punish or reward them. Life will naturally just kind of do that in some cases. This is very likely one of those cases. They're touching a very hot stove, and it is burning them. Let them figure out that they'll stop hurting once they stop touching the hot stove. Getting burnt teaches you not to touch the stove. Being rescued teaches you a very different lesson; that people will step in and bail you out when you're in too deep.

If their only reason to pull their hand back from a hot stove is you doing it for them, their feedback is you grabbing their hand, not the burn of the stove. In your efforts to help, you're teaching them to rely on you.

  • An answer to your first question is en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microcredit, but that is surprisingly not the case here. The relative has (or claims so) loans from fairly high-profile banks. As I was interrogating them, they opened multiple apps on their phone to check the total amount of debt, then spelt it for me as I was writing it down (with precision up to the second decimal place). I have not seen the names of those apps, and only caught a glimpse of their interface. – Asang Jun 22 '18 at 15:55
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    @Asang Unfortunately that doesn't really prove anything. If you are looking to fake a debt to multiple people it would be easy to open unrelated apps on your phone and write down random numbers down to the second decimal. Further support that this might be the case is their refusal to let you see their accounts. If they are looking for help and willing to write down the amounts, what incentive would they have for hiding the account itself? Hesitating to write down full names might have been because they were making them up on the spot. I'm not saying it's conclusive, but it's possible – PunPun1000 Jun 22 '18 at 17:21
  • @PunPun1000 I've amended the post with extra info on how the relative has always been (or seemed to) bad at details while lying. Also, I forgot to mention that they called the bank in my presence and clarified some numbers. Staging that would have been far too elaborate for them. Usually they just do with the air of confidence ("of course I will repay, after I earn that"). – Asang Jun 22 '18 at 20:24
  • @Asang if they're not good at deception, how did they get all of these loans? – apaul Jun 22 '18 at 20:30
  • @apaul the relative said that one of the loans from the banks was from 4 years ago. I do not know about the other bank loans. As for loans from people, I still do not think that any of them involved detailed deception. Most likely it was "the times are tough, but of course I will repay when I can". What I heard during the interrogation was far more complex. – Asang Jun 22 '18 at 20:55

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