News about financial elder abuse is becoming more common nowadays. Whether it’s via phone, mail, internet, or even through direct interaction, vulnerable seniors are being targeted frequently. We often think that such a thing won’t happen with our parents or feel that our parents are smart enough to take care of their money. The disturbing reality is that the thieves are good at it. Studies show that 3% to 5% of seniors in the U.S. become the victim of financial abuse every year. No one is immune from the threat. So, instead of wishful thinking, we need to build awareness about the threats and focus on helping them protect their retirement savings.
Talk with your parents about their money. For some it may be uncomfortable to talk to your parents about their money. But starting the conversation is the first and most critical step to help safeguard them from financial abuse. Some parents will be relieved that you have offered to help but some might be more guarded about the details. At a minimum, you should feel comfortable knowing that they have kept good records of all their finances and that you know how these records are to be accessed if they are incapacitated. Also, offer to be included in their conversations with professionals, like accountants, attorneys, and financial advisors who assist them with financial matters.
Talk with your parents about potential troubles. Not every financial crisis the elders face is a sign of abuse. But, having the transparent conversation can be of real help. Look out for their unpaid bills, creditors’ notices, and malicious activities on their bank accounts.
Most scams take place via phone calls. Phone scammers will pose as representatives from a sweep-stake, lottery, or some other contests, and tell that your parents have got a prize. Others will pose as representatives from their bank asking to confirm account information over the phone. Some con artists pose as officials from Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and threaten with legal action over some alleged overdue balances. Remember, the real IRS sends action notices via regular mail only.
Talk with your parents about such scams and make sure that they never give out account, Social Security, or Medicare information to anyone out there asking for it over the phone or internet. Also, ask them to include you when signing any papers (especially contracts, legal documents, or anything related to their finances).
Make sure your parents are well informed. There are excellent resources to keep you and your loved ones aware of these kinds of frauds. StopFraud.gov offers many resources and tips to know, identify, and report financial abuse of elders. You can also find useful information on the official website of AARP.org – they also offer programs like Fraud Watch as well as interactive national fraud maps that make you informed about different reports and alerts from the department of law enforcement.
With wise planning and clear communication, you can make genuine efforts to protect your parents as well as the other elders in your family from a costly and upsetting set of unwanted circumstances.