Protecting Your Parents from Scams and Fraud
Every year, fraudsters and scam artists con seniors out of tens of millions of their hard-earned savings, while identity thieves steal from tens of millions more. If your parents are elderly, they too could become targets for these criminals who like to prey on the weak and vulnerable. It's important to educate yourself and your parents so that you can avoid such schemes.
Why Target the Elderly?
Criminals target the elderly simply because they see them as easy marks with a lot of resources. These scammers and thieves know that elderly people:
- Are more likely to own their own homes
- Are more likely to have significant savings and other valuables
- Usually have excellent credit ratings
- May be suffering from impairments such as dementia that leave them less able to resist persuasive tactics
- Tend to be more trusting with strangers than younger people
- Are less likely to contact the authorities when they are defrauded
- Often live alone and are socially isolated
Categories of Fraud and Scams
Scammers do not just target the elderly with their increasingly-sophisticated scams and plots. Nevertheless, your parents are far more likely than you to be approached because they're seen as helpless to do anything to prevent their exploitation. The categories of defrauding and scamming include:
- Telemarketing Fraud
- Mail Fraud
- Internet Fraud
- Medical Fraud
- Identity Theft
- Advance Payment Scams
- Charity Frauds
- Sweetheart Scams
- Work-from-Home Scams
Fraudsters can be extremely clever and inventive when it comes to figuring out ways to separate vulnerable people from their money. You might believe that when your parents are safely ensconced in beautiful retirement communities or assisted living programs that they'll be safe and protected. But in fact, in the eyes of scammers, seniors still represent a giant bull's-eye.
While the details of these scams and frauds differ, in the end they all boil down to the same thing: strangers approaching seniors with stories designed to convince them to part ways with either their money or their personal information (so their money can be later stolen). Generally speaking, if these appeals are coming unsolicited – in other words, they're not in response to inquiries for information initiated by your parents or someone close to them – then the chances are you are dealing with fraudsters or other kinds of troublemakers.
In order to prepare your parents to resist these appeals, the best thing to do is talk with your parents and let them know what to watch out for. In reality, common sense may be the best defense. As the old axiom goes – if it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.
Tips for Avoiding Scams
Unless they live with you, your ability to protect your parents from being taken advantage of by con artists is going to be somewhat limited. But you can give them warnings on how to avoid scams and frauds; what to be on the lookout for, and what actions they can take to minimize their risk of being exploited.
- Do use a spam filter with your e-mail, and don’t open anything that has been filtered out unless it is from an e-mail address you recognize
- Do keep records of all your bills so you cannot be fooled into paying for something you never received or ordered
- Do use caller ID, and answer the phone only when the call is from someone you know
- Do register your phone number with the National 'Do Not Call' list to prevent unwanted telemarketer contacts
- Do resist high-pressure, aggressive sales tactics
- Don't share personal information through the mail, online, or over the phone to someone who contacts you unsolicited, even from apparently reputable sources without first consulting family members, trusted friends, an attorney, or a professional financial planner.
- Don’t send anyone cash up front to anyone offering a future service, prize or special discount
- Don’t give to charities soliciting money over the phone - it is better to seek out reputable charities on your own
- Don’t talk to anyone who approaches you at ATM machines unless you know them
- Don’t answer the doorbell unless it is someone you know
While illegal scams may be the primary threat to guard against, credit card companies, banks, businesses, elderly care providers and private contractors may be able to persuade your parents to agree to things that are not in their best interests, even if they're perfectly legal. So-called reputable sources are ultimately out to make money like everyone else, and if your parents are not able to comprehend the complexities of what's being offered they might sign up for something they shouldn’t and end up losing their money legally, but unnecessarily.
We can all become the victims of identity theft and/or fraud; but seniors may be especially vulnerable to scams and con artists. Nevertheless, if you educate yourself about what these criminal elements are up to, you can do a lot to help protect your elderly loved ones.
Publish Date: Mon, 02/14/2011 - 10:18
Categories: Care for Mom and Dad