As technology exponentially grows, so does the chance of being financially exploited. Unfortunately, we are becoming more familiar with the notion of financial abuse targeting elders – scams and other exploitation targeting the savings of people aged 60 and older. We like to think “it won’t happen to my family” or “my relative is too smart to be taken in by this”, but the truth is it can happen to anyone. This sort of fraud is far too common, so it’s important to talk to your loved ones about what to look for, and how they can protect their finances.
First, talk about money. It can be uncomfortable to talk with family about financial issues, but this is often the best first step toward guarding against financial abuse. Like many topics, putting it off the tough conversation tends to be the least favorable option. Find out the information you would need to know in the event of a sudden calamity. Questions to ask include: where is the important paperwork kept – i.e. bills, deeds, and wills? Who are the professionals they work with – accountants, lawyers, and those who assist with financial matters?
It’s also important for you to have a clear understanding of the different accounts and investments your parents or loved ones keep their money. You will also want to have a conversation about when and under what circumstances they would like for you to step in and handle their finances for them. In the discussion, be sure to talk about preparing a financial power of attorney.
Trouble takes many forms. Not all financial trouble that elders experience is a sign of abuse, but having open and clear communication can be a great help. Look for unpaid bills piling up, creditor notices, and suspicious activity on their bank accounts.
There are several scams out there that target the elderly. They can be via phone call or even email. There are scammers who pose as officials from a sweepstakes, lottery, or some other contest claiming that your parent or loved one is in line to receive a prize. Sometimes, scammers will pretend to be a young loved one needing money sent fast to get out of trouble. Others will pretend to be from the Internal Revenue Service or their bank referencing a past due amount. Commonly, your loved one will have a bad feeling, but the scammers often become confrontational to try and create urgency.
Talk about these scams with your parents or loved ones. Make sure that they understand that they shouldn’t give out Medicare or Social Security numbers, and always be absolutely certain before signing anything, particularly legal documents, contracts, and anything to do with making an investment. For the latter, if you don’t already know the people who handle your financial matters for your parents or loved ones, suggest that a meeting be arranged and, if necessary, that they be instructed to work with you under certain circumstances.
Stay informed. There are several resources to keep you and your loved ones aware of fraud, both in terms of new scams and even instances of elder financial abuse in your area. StopFraud.gov offers a number of resources and tips for identifying and reporting the financial exploitation of elders. The AARP website features a Fraud Watch program and offers and interactive national fraud map that can look at specific reports and alerts from law enforcement.
With careful planning and communication, you can make a real effort to protect your parents and other elders in your family from an embarrassing and costly set of circumstances.