Talking to Senior Loved Ones About Scams
Jeff's 82-year-old father lives across the country and Jeff visits a couple times a year. During his last visit, Jeff noticed a pile of sweepstakes notices on Dad's desk, along with many sketchy-looking charity pitch mailings. Dad talked vaguely about an exciting investment that a new friend had clued him in on. Yet he was uncharacteristically reticent to discuss financial matters. "Stay out of my business, Jeff!" said Dad as he shoved his checkbook into a drawer.
It's one of the most frustrating things a child can face—seeing their parents being taken advantage of financially. This growing problem costs seniors billions of dollars each year. What can you do to protect your loved one?
First, it helps to know why scammers target older adults:
- Most seniors were raised to be polite and trusting, and find it hard to say no.
- Seniors often have money set aside in savings and retirement accounts.
- Scammers are quick to take advantage of seniors who have memory loss.
- Loneliness and isolation make seniors more susceptible to the manipulations of a "friendly stranger."
- Many seniors are at the point in life when they want to leave a legacy through charitable contributions.
Understanding these factors can help you have a more productive conversation about fraud with an elderly loved one. For example, if senior loved ones have become lonely and isolated, this makes them more vulnerable to con artists. Help them expand their social connections. Learn about local senior centers and volunteer opportunities. If you live nearby, offer to provide transportation to social events. If you live at a distance, find out who their friends are and encourage them to drop by and check in on occasion. Consider in-home care for companionship, supervision and transportation out and about. Helping your loved one be actively engaged in the community makes it less likely that they will engage a scammer, either on the phone or in person.
The best tactic is to educate your parents about the dangers before they become a victim. This can be tricky, because parents don't like to be lectured to by their children or made to feel stupid. One good way to start the conversation is to share your own experience of a time when you fell for a sales pitch or felt ripped off. Or share the story of someone else you know of who got scammed. This way you can end the conversation with "Don’t make my mistake" or "Don't make Sheila's mistake."
Appeal to your loved one's sense of justice. Explain how fraudsters target seniors. Provide tips on how they can protect themselves, and encourage them to share the information with their friends. As part of their Weapons of Fraud program, AARP recently released an informative and engaging video that you can watch on YouTube with your loved one. As the real-life con artist in the video reveals his techniques, your senior parent will probably be boiling mad—but happy to see that the scammer is clad in a prison jumpsuit!
Invite your parents to watch the video and discuss the topic with you, not as something they need to know, but as valuable information you all could benefit from. Simply making your parents aware of the problem will make them less likely to say yes to the persistent pitch of a con artist. In this way, you empower your parents and leave them better able to push back against scammers.
Finally, if a parent already has fallen victim to a scam, don't scold them or make them feel stupid. Tell them there are millions of other people in their situation and work with them to find ways to ensure it doesn't happen again. Help them report the crime to local or federal authorities.
If your parents are open to it, you can be added to their bank accounts to help monitor any large, unexplained expenditures. Offer to help them manage their finances. Suggest ways to make funds less readily available, such as safe investments. In this way, your parents will be more likely to view you as an ally, not as a threat to their independence. If an elderly parent is truly incompetent to manage their affairs due to cognitive decline, it may be time to talk to an elder law attorney about the possibility of a guardianship or power of attorney.
The FBI offers information about fraud targeting seniors, including instructions for reporting that a senior or someone else has been victimized.