How To Help Aging Parents Avoid Scams and Fraud
There are many ways that seniors are preyed upon by scammers. Some ways are more common than others. In each instance, a scammer seeks to gain control of the elderly person’s finances or property for their own benefit. However, in order to stop fraud, it’s important to know the specifics. The following post will discuss how to help your aging parents avoid scams and fraud.
Educate Seniors About Suspicious Phone Calls
Swindlers often cold-call seniors to get personal information. Here are a few common phone scams you can look out for:
Inform your elder to be suspicious of phone calls stating that they have “won” a sweepstakes. These scams will try to get the senior to provide bank account information for direct deposit. They may also try to convince the senior to send a check to pay for the taxes on their “winnings”.
In this scam, an elder will receive a call from someone stating that they are a grandchild who is in trouble and in need of help. When the senior answers the phone they will hear something like this: “Grandma, it’s me… please don’t tell my parents.” The caller will then claim they are out of town and need to be wired money to make bail or to pay for travel expenses. Have a discussion with your loved ones about what to do if they receive a phone call like this. Many families create a “code word” for everyone to use. If the scammer doesn’t know the code word, then they are not who they say they are. A code word is a quick and effective way to vet emergency phone calls.
Voter registration scams
The voter registration scam is when someone calls about registering the elder to vote, asking for their address, birthday, Social Security Number, or a password or PIN code.
An elder may get a call offering discounts on health insurance or a call from someone claiming they work for the government and need a Medicare number or Social Security Number to issue a new card.
How to Help Seniors Avoid Being Scammed on the Telephone
We cannot stress how important it is to encourage seniors to never give out their personal information to strangers over the phone. Even if the people on the phone are claiming to be friends or loved ones! This is one of the best ways you can help your seniors avoid getting scammed. If your loved one is getting an exorbitant amount of phone calls from people they don’t know, consider asking them if you can change the settings on their phone to only allow notifications from numbers already found in their contacts.
If you suspect your aging parent has already been a victim of a fraud crime, report it to the National Elder Fraud Hotline 833–FRAUD–11. This hotline is a free resource created by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), Office for Victims of Crime for people to report fraud against anyone age 60 or older.
Help Aging Parents Avoid Scams by Talking Openly About Finances
Ask your aging parents if they would consider allowing you to join them on their next visit to financial advisors, accountants, attorneys, and other important service providers. If you are welcome to join them, you will have a unique opportunity to prove to the providers your relationship and good intentions towards the senior. If the service provider believes that you have the senior’s best interest at heart, they may contact you when and if they believe something suspicious is going on with your loved one’s accounts.
We must warn you that becoming too involved in a loved one’s financial life may create the appearance of undue influence. It is important to help keep loved ones from being exploited, but you also don’t want to find yourself the subject of a lawsuit claiming that you are the one committing financial exploitation. Please be careful in how you approach discussing finances with the seniors in your life.
Stay Up to Date on Changes Made to Their Estate Plan
Check to see if a non-relative has been included as a representative or beneficiary, or if any relatives have been cut out of the estate plan since the last time you reviewed it. There may be perfectly reasonable explanations for these changes. However, they could also indicate that someone is trying to manipulate your loved one.
Ask Your Senior About Caretakers or Sudden “Best Friends“
Has a non-relative, long-time friend, or neighbor started spending a lot of time with your loved one? Do they suddenly have a new “best friend” or someone who takes care of them at home?
These developments could be a sign that someone is trying to work their way into an elder’s life in order to exploit them, financially or otherwise. It might seem innocent enough (and even generous!) for a new friend to “hang out” with an elder and take care of their medical and financial needs. But because of the potential for abuse, we recommend hiring caregivers through a reputable agency. Obtain reviews and make sure they have the proper licensure and training.
Making new friends and meeting people is fine, and even encouraged to minimize the isolation that many older adults face. However, it’s important to communicate with your loved ones to make sure they are not giving un-vetted people undue control over their life.
Investigate Sudden Missing Items or Extravagant New Purchases
It is important to talk with your elderly loved ones about finances so that, if they consent, you can regularly review their statements and stay up to date on other financial developments. One easy way to do this is to have the senior grant you view-only access to their bank accounts. You may also consider a paid subscription monitoring app such as EverSafe or LifeLock. These companies provide constant monitoring for any unusual activity on the accounts. This makes preventing suspicious transactions much easier.
Make sure to ask questions about weird financial transactions. Have there been any large cash transfers? Vehicles suddenly missing or new ones showing up unexpectedly? Heirloom household items that have disappeared? Fancy or expensive new gadgets showing up that are out of character for your loved one to buy? This can indicate that someone has convinced the elder to give them assets or that they have duped the elder into buying something they don’t need.
Recruit Friends, Family, Social Groups, and Neighbors to Keep a Watchful Eye on Your Senior
Keep an open dialogue with neighbors, friends, and advisors who are connected with your aging loved ones. The more people you have looking out, the less likely it is that someone can take advantage of them without your knowledge. Elder abuse is less likely when a senior has a variety of people checking in on them.
A Strong Estate Plan Can Help Aging Parents Avoid Scams
Finally, encourage your aging parents to meet privately with an experienced Elder Law Attorney to determine what they can do to protect themselves from bad actors. Having a legal document in place naming a trusted advisor, or agent, to help handle finances can protect them. An experienced Elder Law Attorney also knows what questions to ask and the warning signs to look for in suspected elder exploitation.
Other Ways You Can Help Aging Parents Avoid Scams
The main point you should take away is that it’s important to have an open dialogue with your aging parents about the variety of scam tactics out there. Send your loved ones this article about how to protect themselves. It has a lot of great tips that can be implemented right away.
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