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How to Protect Your Aging Loved One Against Scams

The stories are heartbreaking. Every year, thousands of elderly folks are scammed out of their money, sometimes to the point of destitution. Criminals know the elderly are vulnerable in many ways, and they can trick them either out of money or personal information. You can help prevent your aging loved one against these scams. Whether the scams involve access to bank accounts or involve medical supplies or seem like requests for charitable donations, you can take appropriate steps.

Scammer talks on a phone with a senior woman and trying to steal money out of her purse

Know the types of scams.

Knowing what the main types of scams are is the first step to protection. Many scams involve requests for personal information, including social security and bank account numbers, which can then be used to gain access to the person's money.

Scammers pretend to be Medicare representatives, government officials, investment advisors, telemarketers, and even grandchildren.

Other scams appeal to the senior's sense of self. They let seniors know that unclaimed property in their name is found, and they can get the property back if only they send in a fee first. Alternatively, appeals to the elderly's sense of charity get donations to fake charities sent out. Letters announcing winning a sweepstakes contest arrive, asking for a small fee to claim the prize.

Be respectfully aware of their finances.

Most scams work on people who are still living independently, whether in their homes or an independent living situation. They will want, therefore, to feel independent of you; partly not to be a burden,and partly because it is part of their identity. Lecturing and demanding control target that independence.

Make sure your loved ones are aware of why the nice phone caller might be a scammer. Point out they cannot win a sweepstakes contest they did not enter. Remind them that government agencies almost always have the information they need. While it is difficult to have these conversations with the elderly, approach them openly; You do not need control of the finances, but having your name on the bank account can allow you to keep track of things. Check their credit reports annually, perhaps with them.

Discuss steps to take for their information privacy.

Framing your discussion regarding privacy may prove helpful. While information must, from time-to-time, be shared with others, most of that sharing is done once. For example, Medicare generally gets all the information it needs when people join at 65.

Senior gentleman age 78 hearing bad news on a vintage phone.

Suggest they should only give information out when they have initiated the call. Perhaps that is a practice you also have in your life; it is an effective way for everyone to protect their information and money.

If they mention the possibility of a large purchase or work on the home, help them do research into the provider. You can frame the research as an attempt to make sure they are getting the best price, rather than acting as a protector.

Some credit card companies still print the entire card number on the printed bills. Make sure the bills are shredded before being tossed (or, at least, that they are tearing off the part with the number). You can mention that you do this yourself;  you do not want to make it easy for someone who rummages through the recycling bin.

Get it in writing.

Whether the request is for a charitable donation or work, help your loved ones to habitually ask for information in writing before deciding to spend money. The legitimate ones will do so readily. They should ask for written letters from any government agency, and avoid pressure sales tactics. Work with them to develop good self-protection habits.

Unclaimed Property

Many people have unclaimed property held for them by state governments. Some of the property held can be substantial; one middle-class couple found their state was holding over $400,000 of their money, mainly because they did not open envelopes with stock certificates in them. Each state has an office of unclaimed property, readily findable via a Google search.

Many states use private services, such as Missing Money, to help people on the first steps of their searches. Some private companies will also help locate the money for you; the legitimate ones ask for no money up front, but will take a percentage; between 20-35% is the usual amount. The process is easy enough for you to do yourself.

Portrait Of Senior Woman Giving Credit Card Details On The Phone

New Widowhood

If your loved one is newly widowed, they are vulnerable to obituary vultures.  During this time, they may be scammed by unscrupulous funeral homes. Cardboard caskets are all that is needed in the event of cremation, for example, rather than expensive show caskets. Others will deliver something "cash on delivery,â" claiming the deceased person ordered it. Work with the newly widowed to develop habits of independence.

Help your loved one, not only with the physical assistance they need as they age but, also, to become aware of what they have so both of you can have peace of mind.

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