Protect elderly family against fraud

I've been at my grandmother's house when she received one of the calls about "fixing her PC Computer." When I overheard her say "Umm, my PC?" I grabbed the phone because my super-cool grandmother has an Apple computer... NOT a PC!

While I was able to run off this caller who was trying to have my grandma pay them to remove a virus from her computer, unfortunately, this was not the first time or the last this has happened. Grandma has also been a victim of a scam via e-mail, when she thought my sister sent her an email that she needed to order diet pills. Luckily, she was only out $80 on that scam, but had we not caught it, it would have been $80 per month.

Aging parents, grandparents or other loved ones who have accumulated a sizable "nest egg" are a fertile field for con artists. For one thing, they generally have more free time than their children. Fraudsters will use that time to pressure seniors into buying investments that fizzle, insurance they don't need, and "miracle cures" that don't work. Seniors are more vulnerable to the "bait and switch" scenario because of several reasons – they tend to forget information more readily than their younger counterparts, and they are often more trusting and polite than younger generations. Like in my experience at my grandmother's house, I was quick to tell the caller to buzz off and leave my grandmother alone, whereas my grandma would have been reluctant to do so.

Here are five tips on how to avoid becoming a victim of fraud yourself, and how to protect your elderly loved ones too:

  1. Know what the scammers want most.
    If the scammer is in the identity theft game, they are after specific data: date of birth, social security numbers, driver's license numbers, credit card information and bank account numbers. Teach your family to withhold that information unless absolutely certain that the person or company has a legitimate need to know.
  2. Get everything in writing.
    If your elderly parents are hiring a landscaper or contractor, they shouldn't accept oral estimates. Job specifications and cost estimates should be put in writing. When the job's done, they should keep all written receipts in a safe place.
  3. Check them out.
    If someone is selling insurance or investments, they should be registered with state authorities. These agencies often publish information – usually available on a state's website – about disciplinary actions taken against a firm or individual.
  4. Beware of the Web and E-mail.
    Today's scammers sit at home and use the Internet. Tell your parents to be wary of outlandish claims and "too good to be true" testimonials that appear in Internet advertising. If receiving an email from a familiar email address or name, if the email doesn't SOUND like something that person would say, delete it. Or at least call that person to see if they sent the email. In our case, my sister's "email" called my grandma by her first name. My sister would NEVER call her by her first name, and that should have been a red flag. (Nevermind that she would also never suggest that my grandma take diet pills!) Which brings me to my next point...
  5. Maintain open communication.
    Talking to your elderly parents about their finances can be a delicate task. Such discussions touch on very real needs for privacy and independence. But refusing to talk can be a recipe for disaster. At the very least, your parents should know a trusted advisor who can help them weigh the pros and cons of significant purchases.

Unfortunately, certain people make a living by preying on the vulnerable. By following a few simple guidelines, you can reduce the risk that your parents will become victims of fraud.