No one likes to think a parent could fall victim to a scam, but it can happen. As a family caregiver, protecting family members from scams through awareness and education is an important part of your caregiving plan.
According to an elder victimization report by the National Center for Victims of Crime, older people are more likely to be targeted by scammers and are more prone to losing money than younger people once they are targeted. But they aren't alone.
“Financial exploitation crosses all social, educational, and economic boundaries," says Naomi Karp, policy analyst, Office for Older Americans, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). And scams come through the mail, over the telephone, online, or even in person. Educating yourself and your parent about how scams work gives you both some reassurance.
What to Look For
You might think scams are easy to identify, but that's not always the case. Some scams are more subtle and happen over time, so it's easy to miss the signs. But there are a few things for you notice.
“Watch out for changes in mood," says John Schall, CEO of Caregiver Action Network. “Is your relative excited about a financial windfall? Ask about it. Are they being secretive or evasive in answering questions? They may be embarrassed about being scammed."
Look at bank accounts and notice what checks are being written or what funds are being withdrawn, and also check on credit reports. These are easy to monitor through online banking, and many banks and credit card companies also offer free credit monitoring.
Stay Aware of Scams
Scams are scary, but you can take action. According to Schall, you can take some measures to protect family and friends. Remind your parents that it's OK to be very cautious. If something is legitimate, it will still be there. Don't rush into sales pitches you can't get in writing or take the time to think about. Don't agree to any deals where you have to act immediately or where you have to pay money to receive a prize.
Put their phone number on the National Do Not Call Registry, Schall says, and add their address to the National Do Not Mail List (through the Direct Marketing Association).
Karp also suggests not sharing important information like numbers and passwords for credit cards, banking accounts (checking, retirement savings, etc.), or Social Security. If someone asks for any of those, investigate who they are and why they are asking for the information.
What Happens if You Find a Scam
If you find Mom or Dad has fallen for a scam, you can take a few steps to sort out the financial and emotional fallout.
“If you suspect a scam, get help," says Karp. “Contact a local, state, or federal agency, depending on the type of scam." That could include local adult protective services agencies or police, your state's attorney general's office, or possibly the Federal Trade Commission. Karp says some victims might need to talk to a lawyer who can help recover property or money and also help protect older adults from future scams.
“Don't shame or blame—explain," says Schall. “Explain how scammers take advantage of older people." Monitoring isn't the same as controlling. “Work on their finances together with them," says Schall. “And more than anything else, be engaged. Loneliness is actually one of the biggest reasons older people fall for scams."