John Kenda has seen the toll of financial scammers who prey on elderly victims.
As the co-owner of in-home care company Able Home Care Solutions for five years, Kenda says, “Every single elderly person we served at our agency had a predator.”
Now Kenda works as a consultant with In Home Care Biz, which helps others set up home care agencies. One of the vital skills he teaches is how to protect clients from elder financial abuse.
The most important thing adult children can do to protect elderly parents from scams, he says, is “be present.”
“You are the beloved child, and you are likely not comfortable with taking over parts of your parents’ lives,” he says. “That said, you are also their guard against predators.”
Common Financial Scams to Watch Out For
Keep an eye on the Federal Trade Commission’s scam alerts to stay up to date on these common scams.
The Grandparent Scam: The victim is contacted by someone pretending to be a grandchild, who says they’re in some sort of trouble and need money wired immediately.
“This takes advantage of less-than-tech-savvy elderly relatives who may not be in regular communication with their grandchildren, but feel compelled to help anyone close to them in trouble,” explains Adam K. Levin, chairman and founder of CyberScout and co-founder of Credit.com.
False trust: A scammer contacts the victim over the phone or door-to-door, claiming to offer estate planning. They convince the victim to sign a power of attorney authorization, giving the scammer the ability to transfer the deed to their home, car title, bank accounts and more.
IRS debts: Scammers pretend to be from the IRS and claim the victims owe money. They offer a way to pay off the debt over the phone and capture credit card information.
Phishing: The victim receives an email with links to fake websites that imitate real sites. They’re prompted to log in, giving the scammers access to their username and password, which they can use to log into real financial accounts.
Social Security scam: A caller claims to be from the Social Security Administration and asks for Social Security numbers or credit card information.
How to Avoid Financial Elder Abuse
Take preventative action to protect elderly parents from being put on the spot and handing over sensitive information or money. You can help them:
- Set up caller ID, and set it to block unknown numbers.
- Freeze new credit requests in their name, which will protect their finances in case of identity theft. You can freeze and unfreeze credit with all three bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
- Monitor bank accounts. If you can, periodically check their bank accounts for suspicious transactions.
- Check the deed. You can visit the city or county registrar’s website or office to see who owns the deed to their home or land.
To avoid falling victim to a scammer, tell your parents to keep the following information in mind.
Know the signs. Be aware of signs that communication is a potential scam, including:
- You’re told you’ll be arrested or fined if you don’t pay immediately.
- You’re being pressured to make a decision. “Legitimate companies will not threaten you to give your information over the phone or email and will not pressure you into making fast decisions,” says Darren Deslatte, vulnerability operations leader at Entrust Solutions.
- A government agency calls to confirm personally identifiable information — real government agencies send this correspondence through the mail for security reasons.
- You’re offered the option to pay through a gift card or cash. Legitimate agencies don’t accept these forms of payment, but scammers like them because they’re hard to track and protect.
Check the URL. When you click on a link, always check the URL in the browser’s navigation bar before entering your information. It should begin with “https,” which indicates it’s secure.
Contact the company yourself. Don’t respond immediately to a phone call or email. Instead, hang up before sharing any information, and call the company’s customer service number (which you can find on its website). If the company or agency actually contacted you, they’ll be able to tell you what they need.
Gabe Turner, chief editor of Security.org, suggests you don’t even utter a word.
“I wouldn’t speak to them at all, because they can record your voice and use it to log into accounts with voice passwords,” Turner says. “Rather, you should ignore potential scam emails and hang up on spam phone calls.”
If you or your parents ever find yourselves communicating with a scammer, Levin advises, “The most important thing is to keep calm and not panic.”
CaptionCall provides no-cost captioned telephone service for those with hearing loss who need captions to use the phone effectively. Understanding clearly what a caller says can be a big part of avoiding a scam. With CaptionCall, users see what the caller is saying in real-time and can enable call saving to listen to the conversation later. These features can help people with hearing loss who need captions to use the phone avoid falling victim to financial abuse.
Dana Sitar (@danasitar) has been writing and editing since 2011, covering personal finance, careers, and digital media.