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Protect an Older Loved One From a Money Scam: 8 Savvy Steps to Know

One in five people over the age of 65 are victims of financial exploitation. Here’s how to make sure your family members don’t become a statistic.


Understand their risk

Financial scammers go where the money goes. They know that older adults, with lifestyles funded by pensions and life savings, are generally wealthier than younger people and also, more vulnerable. Making them perfect targets for elder financial abuse. The cons also take advantage of the elderly’s susceptibility to cognitive impairment and memory loss. “[Seniors] are more trusting and more needy,” wrote Marc Barach, chief marketing officer at Jumio, a business that works with companies such as United Airlines and Airbnb to reduce fraud, in a column on Forbes. “A large group of people are joining the information-sharing world later in life, with less knowledge about the internet and privacy laws.” Check out these 10 ways to protect yourself online.


Limit marketing offers and robotic calls to their home

Because retired adults are generally home a large percentage of time, they are also more susceptible to scammers who might target their landline. Get your parents on the Do Not Call list and advise them to never give out financial information over the Internet, through e-mails or mail, or over the phone, unless they are the caller.


Know what’s available about them online

While an active social media page tells a con artist that a senior is surrounded by attentive family and friends—which is great—it can also give away details of their personal life that help the scammer create an even more believable trap. Phone numbers, addresses, birthdays, and names of family members are just the tip of the iceberg. Hobbies, home valuations, friends’ names, and favorite businesses can lead to even more targeted scams. The more details a con can include in his or her pitch, the more likely a senior is to believe that the person is calling from a legitimate company, or is who they say they are.


Allow technology to help

Online banking makes it easier for your loved one to access and monitor his or her accounts. If you think the person could use an extra set of eyes when it comes to checking their financial statements for inaccuracies and fraud, opt to receive read-only bank statements for each account, a practice Consumer Reports recommends. Read-only statements are safer than joint accounts, and protect the account from extra taxes, overdraft charges, and divorce. (If an adult child gets divorced, the joint account can be considered part of that child’s assets).


Beware the fox guarding the hen house

“Unfortunately, some of the biggest scams come from trusted family members,” says Elizabeth Loewy, former chief of the elder abuse unit in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and current general counsel at EverSafe. “Sometimes children can feel that in exchange for taking care of Mom and Dad, they can also quietly take out a bit of money.” Scams from trusted caregivers, doctors, lawyers, accountants, and even friends are also common. See here for a complete list of the most commonly reported forms of financial exploitation.


Look out for bank-statement irregularities

Things to look out for are missing deposits (for example, if your parents’ social security deposit usually comes in by the fifth of the month, and one month it doesn’t), out-of-area ATM use, erratic or unusual purchases (say, random charges to QVC or other home shopping networks), and service subscriptions the person doesn’t need, use, or want to renew. Other irregularities include unpaid bills and discontinued services such as water and electricity, transferring assets to new “friends,” unexplained disappearances of cash or valuable possessions, and checks written to “cash,” according to Adult Protective Services.


Take note of any changes in the person

If your aging grandmother has been impeccably dressed since she was 22, and all of a sudden shows up to Thanksgiving dinner looking rundown, or Uncle John is normally the quietest one in the room, and one day explodes into a fit of rage, that’s a clue to start paying closer attention to the rest of that person’s behaviors, including whether or not they need help managing their finances. These could be early signs of Alzheimer’s or other cognitive decline.


Notify someone at the first sign of trouble

If you notice something suspicious, consult your financial advisor, accountant, or family lawyer before it’s too late. The case should eventually find its way to Adult Protective Services, says Loewy. Based on your report, APS will assess the situation and develop a plan for the senior to move forward. To find an APS office near you, see here.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest