February 26, 2019

How to protect your aging parents from financial scams

Are you concerned about your aging parents’ vulnerability to phishing, fraud, and scams? Many of us are. Reports indicate that nearly half of mobile calls are fraudulent. Meanwhile, the amounts lost to scammers are staggering. The median cash amount sent by people 70+ to friend or family imposters was $9,000.

There are many ways to equip yourself, and your parents, against fraud. In this article, we’ll present a handful of suggestions you can put to work right away. Here goes…

Start a dialogue (now)

Too many wait until after a scam has occurred to take action. Don’t make this mistake. It’s never too early to start talking about fraud, how it happens, and ways to protect oneself.

It’s also worth reminding your parents that you want to protect them. Having these conversations before they experience cognitive impairments helps you understand their concerns. It also sets you up to work together to put a plan in place, should fraud occur.

Discuss the risks

According to the Federal Trade Commission the most prevalent forms of fraud include:

  1. Sweepstakes, prize promotions and lotteries
  2. Timeshare sales and re-sales
  3. Health care products and services
  4. Investments, business opportunities and work-from-home programs
  5. Technical support services
  6. Charitable donations

Many of these types of fraud might at first appear to be legitimate opportunities and services. As such, it’s important to discuss how these risks are presented, and how your parents can look at such offers more critically.

The first step is to educate yourself about these scams (we’re building a scam registry to help with this). Learn how these operators work, and get familiar with terms like phishing and vishing. As you grow more familiar with these threats, you’re better equipped to explain them to your aging parents.

Create good habits

When presented with an exciting opportunity (like a lottery win) or a significant threat (imprisonment for back-taxes), few act rationally. Scammers often prey on this by adding urgency to their appeal. One way to lessen this risk, is to establish habits that prevent rash decisions.

Following are some good rules-of-thumb to remind your parents of (and for you to consider in your own life):

  1. Be wary of exciting offers. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  2. Keep your private information private. Never provide account numbers, passwords, banking information, or social insurance number to someone by phone or email.
  3. Take your time. Scammers use urgency to intimidate you. Pause. Take a breath. Relax. Maintain control over the situation and avoid reacting. There’s no rush.
  4. Don’t trust emails—and avoid clicking links in them. Many of these pretend to be from legitimate sources (banks, government agencies) but are intended to trick you.
  5. Never pick up the phone from numbers you don’t recognize. If in doubt, let the call go to your answering machine / voicemail. Then listen to the message and call back if you know it’s a legitimate caller. Similarly, avoid answering the door if you don’t recognize who’s knocking.
  6. Don’t give others information they can use against you. Be sure to shred any mail, bills, and receipts before you recycle them.
  7. Keep communicating with those you trust. It’s important for the people around you to know if you’re at risk. There’s no shame in being cautious or reporting activity that gives you a bad gut feeling.

Ask if you can monitor their activity

As we age, our cognitive ability can diminish. This leaves us more susceptible to scams. For this reason, if you recognize the early stages of dementia/Alzheimers in your parent, it’s worth offering a little extra support. Part of this can be done by keeping an eye on activity.

For example, Services like Telgard allow you to screen incoming callers. This allows you to spot—and block—phone scammers. You can also Safelist approved callers, so, safe callers can ring through. (It’s a good idea to add yourself, your siblings, family members, and your parents’ doctors and health professionals to their safelist.)

With their permission, you can also explore the possibility of monitoring their financial activity. Online banking makes this easier, and if you check in daily, you’ll likely spot any strange transfers or out-of-character spending. Again, this should only be done with your parents’ permission—but does offer a great deal of peace-of-mind. It’s also wise to check credit reports to ensure they are not victims of identity theft.

New doorbell systems like Ring, also allow you to see who’s at your parents’ front door. These typically have corresponding apps that allow you to keep an eye on activity—using just your mobile phone.

Set up protections

Technology is wonderful, and offers us a lot of opportunities to stay in touch and access information. At the same time, it presents a number of risks—especially for older users. For this reason, it’s wise to take an active role in how your parents engage with technology.

First of all, unlist your parents’ phone number. This won’t stop all robocalls; however, it can limit some people from reaching them. If you can get them to switch from a landline to a smartphone, you can also install robocall blocking software. That said, some elderly users find these devices to be cumbersome and confusing.

If your parents use Facebook, or other social media sites, talk to them about their privacy settings. The less information they divulge through these networks, the safer they are. (Scammers sometimes use social networks as a means of collecting information about the people they plan to target.)

If your parents are on a PC, consider switching them to an iPad. iOS devices are more resilient to malware, as apps can only be installed via the App Store; whereas, PCs are easier to install new—and sometimes malicious—software on. If they’re unwilling to make the switch, be sure to keep their OS up to date. Additionally, consider installing antivirus and malware software on their device.

Establish a support network

When it comes to your parents’ safety, you needn’t go it alone. Work with your siblings and other family members to keep an eye on your aging parents—and keep them engaged. Communicate frequently, and discuss your concerns. The sooner you spot something going awry, the sooner you can take action.

Meanwhile, get to know your parents’ trusted advisors. Talk to their doctors, accounts, and other financial professionals. These people might spot a red flag before you do. Perhaps it’s a large withdrawal, a sudden contest “win”, or an investment “opportunity”. Your parents worked hard to save their money. Help them protect their nest egg.

Stay involved

Most importantly, play an active part in your parents’ lives—and help advocate on their behalf. Create a habit of checking in, daily. Do it while walking your dog, or on your commute in to the office. Doing so can help you spot warning signs, and get involved if there’s an issue.

More than that, it’s a great way to maintain a strong bond with the people who made you who you are. They won’t be around forever. Talk to them now, while you still can.

Get protection.

Telephone scammers represent a significant threat. 10 minutes of preparedness—now—could save you, or someone you love, from unwanted anxiety and risk.

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