Scamming older adults is one of the most prevalent forms of fraud. In many scams, elderly adults are targeted more frequently than other age groups. Once duped, they may also be targeted again because they’re seen as an easy mark. Women are also twice as likely as men to be targeted for scams, especially if they are in their 80s and living alone.
According to the AARP, in 2012 “more than 25,500 older Americans reported sending $110 million to scammers posing as family members and claiming an injury or arrest in a foreign country.” If elderly scams are an iceberg, this would just be the tip. Law enforcement officials note that only about eight percent of crimes are reported each year, and in total, nearly $36 billion in senior fraud and financial abuse is scammed every year!
Scammers can pose as a family member in need, or tempt withsweepstakes, vacation rentals, investment schemes, prescription drug discount programs, and even governmental organizations like Social Security and Medicare, to get money and procure an older adult’s personal and private information. They can come in the form of letters, emails, and phone calls. More often than not, a cyber-scammer is actually in a foreign country.
You may be tempted to take over the finances to protect those you love, but this can lead to hard feelings between family members and also a sense of lost independence. Being steamrolled when it comes to personal finances may also prompt older adults to rebel and do things they may not have otherwise done to assert themselves and reclaim their autonomy.
Despite the numerous hazards and risks, there are ways to protect elders from these kinds of frauds, scams, and other criminal activities without hurting their feelings or spraining their dignity. Here are a few tips to help keep your elderly parents, or grandparents, out of trouble.
The first line of defense is making sure that you are living with, or frequently visiting, the older adult. This way you can monitor their finances while also keeping the snooping to a discrete minimum.
With frequent visits you’ll know what mail is coming in the house and can also keep an eye on their bank account statements and email. If you’re in the home, you’ll also be able to monitor phone conversations and nip strange calls in the bud right away.
Hire professional help
Care providers can offer the same level of care, or frequently even better care and attention, than you could provide on your own. Explain to in-home care providers that the older adult is at risk for scams and ensure that they help keep an eye out for any suspicious calls, letters, visits or trips.
A second pair of eyes and ears of a home care provider that assists with housework and errands a few days a week, can help you nip any potential scams in the bud before they happen, and protect your family member’s savings and sanity.
Explain why the offer is a scam
Instead of just telling your parent to hang up the phone or throw out the letter, sit with them to discuss why it’s a scam. Help them understand the warning signs to recognize and avoid other potential frauds.
Explain that they can’t win a contest they didn’t enter. They never have to pay fees to collect lottery winnings. Remind them that financial institutions and government agencies would never make personal phone calls to ask for their private information because they already have all those details on file.
Try some reverse psychology
If you find out that an older adult is playing a sweepstakes or participating in a double your money scam, ask how you can join as well. Not wanting to see you duped or harmed, they may realize that the offer is not actually as good as it seems.
This reverse psychology tactic can sometimes prompt a warning from an elderly adult, or at least start a conversation about why they are participating even though they know it is not a very good idea. Opening up communication may help them come to terms with the scam or fraud that they’re joining.
Don’t blame or shame
If they do get duped, or seem uncertain as to whether an offer is a scam, remind them what they taught you when you were little: Don’t trust strangers. This is especially true when it comes to strangers who are seeking their personal information and asking for money.
Turn suckers into superheroes
Remember, despite your best efforts, if an older adult does become the victim of a scam, fraud, or crime, be sure to let them know that sharing their experience can help other older adults in a similar situation.
Help them understand that law enforcement is looking for the criminals. Share with them that talking about what happened will help protect other people from suffering a similar fate. If the request is framed in this way, they may be more willing to open up and talk about the details of what happened.
Keeping older adults alert and aware to scams, fraud, and identity theft is just one of many ways to keep them safe from harm in their later years. Adults over the age of 65 are not only more prone to scams, but also other ailments like weather-related illnesses, flu, and pneumonia.
However, with some careful planning, assertive conversations, and compassionate understanding of their ages and limitations, you’ll be sure to come to a mutual understanding that both keeps them feeling autonomous, yet protected.