Being an older person (I’m 68), I know what the real world situation is when it comes to frauds and scams. Scammers tend to prey upon the elderly. Protecting yourself from fraud and scams would be a big enough job by itself, but you also need to protect your older parents from becoming victims of con artists.
These days, many of us no longer live near our parents, making this effort even more difficult. You may not be aware of what phone calls, emails, and letters they receive which may be luring them into financial ruin. It’s a growing problem for a number of reasons and the biggest one is that the older generation is a soft target, many with assets that are fairly accessible for everyday use from a checking or savings account.
The Stats are Alarming!
According to the Federal Trade Commission, which has detailed the 2.7 million complaints the agency received from consumers last year, the number of complaints has decreased from nearly 3 million in 2016, while consumers reported losing $905 million, an increase of $63 million from 2016. In terms of age, younger people were victimized more often but, but older people lost more money. For those 20-29, the median loss was $400. The comparable figures were $621 for those 70 to 79 and $1,092 for those 80 and above. You can find out more information on this subject at the FTC’s fraud report in detail at its website.
Dealing with Your Parents
Your instinct may be to take a hard line with your parents to protect them from danger, but lecturing them or seizing control can have the opposite effect. If they feel like you’re trying to take away their independence, they might act out, and end up victim to a scam in a misguided attempt to prove you wrong.
So how can you help prevent your loved ones from suffering the sad possibility of being scammed and do it in a in a loving caring way? Here are some tips.
1. Don’t boss your parent around
Telling your parent to throw away mail or hang up on a phone call without explaining why is likely to backfire. You’ll also need to help them understand why. For example, tell them that the IRS doesn’t contact you by phone if there’s a problem. Or remind them that they can’t win a contest that they never entered. Prompt them with the lesson they taught you when you were young and that is “don’t trust strangers”.
2. Bring out their protective instincts
If you become aware that your older parent is already involved with an illegitimate sweepstake or an investment that promises to double your money, ask them how you can get in on it. Psychologists say this can sometimes help the parent to re-evaluate what’s going on because they want to protect you from losing any money. If they try to dissuade you from getting involved with it, that’s the time to ask why they’re doing it in the first place. This can open up a dialogue and help them to recognize a scam for themselves.
3. Reduce feelings of shame
If your older parent has already become a victim of a fraud or scam, they may be reluctant to talk about it out of embarrassment or shame. Explain to them that revealing details to the authorities will help protect others from suffering the same fate. They can become the hero of someone else’s story.
Some Additional Steps
One of the best things to do is to keep alert to any signs of danger. When you are visiting your parents, find out about the mail and calls they are getting, be proactive. If you don’t live nearby, see if you can enlist a trusted relative, friend, or neighbor to keep an eye on things and determine if there’s any kind of pattern to the mail or phone calls that come in.
Another good idea is to set up online access to your parents’ bank and credit card accounts. This will let you watch over their finances from your own home. Look for unusual monthly charges, even if they aren’t very large. Online access is something they may not feel threatened by and gives you a way to protect them.
Remove your parents’ telephone listing so scammers can’t get it. Consider replacing the landline with a cellphone, where scam calls are less frequent though still possible.
Put your parents’ addresses on opt-out list and do not call lists with direct marketers. Once done, legitimate vendors won’t send junk mail and parents will know that what arrives is likely from scammers.
Check your parents’ credit reports at WalletHub for free. Look out for any new accounts that may not be legitimate.
Be Aware of the Risks
Be sure to familiarize yourself with common frauds and scams. A great resource is AARP’s Fraud Watch Network. Keep up to date with it, and show it to your parents so they can feel knowledgeable and in charge.
Also be aware of factors that increase susceptibility to fraud. Fraud against the elderly has been increasing, and women over 80 are especially vulnerable. Unlike the women of today, many of them may not be accustomed to handling their own finances. Also, the three years after a major stress event, like the loss of a spouse or a housing move, can be a difficult time during which elders are more likely to fall for a scam.
The bottom line is that you are probably the best safety net to help protect your elderly parents and their money. This is especially true if they are on their own, not in the best of health, and have some real assets, but it can and does happen to everyone. It can even happen to you!
Have you had any experience with frauds and scams either on your own or with another family member? Are you worried about your parents and their vulnerability to recognize a scam? What have you done to help prevent scams and frauds from hurting your family?