Our parents grew up in an era of unlocked doors, trusting strangers and taking people at their word. It was a simpler time when you knew all of your neighbors, and you couldn’t imagine the opportunities that things like texting, social media and other online activity would create for people looking to do harm. Unfortunately, it seems that era of innocence and trust paved the way for older adults to be more easily scammed and defrauded.
One of the latest scams in the US involves phone calls from an IRS agent informing people that there is a “fraud on their account” and if they don’t send the necessary payment immediately, they can be arrested, deported or have their driver’s license revoked by the IRS. Scammers use wire transfers, prepaid debit or gift cards to collect. The Treasury Inspector General reports that approximately 13,000 victims have sent over $63 million to these con artists since 2013.
The Canadian market has also seen a rash of “family emergency” scams. Scammers use social media profiles to get information about a young family member and then call a senior posing as that person in some sort of emergency situation – they’re out of gas in a city where they know no one, they’ve been arrested and need money, or they’ve been in an accident and need to get home. Victims are instructed to send cash via a service like MoneyGram, Western Union or a prepaid card.
Like many of us, once an older adult realizes they’ve been a victim of a scam, they are often embarrassed and don’t want to report what has happened. They may not even tell their family members. They fear we will consider this as a sign of ‘failing’ and that it signals a coming loss of independence. The key to helping older family members through a scam or fraud situation is to be supportive and not judgmental.
As with many things affecting our aging parents, it’s important to have conversations about these situations in a loving, non-confrontational way. A great way to open the conversation is to talk about how times have changed and how difficult it can be to trust people who call or reach out by email. Parents love to reminisce and this type of relaxed communications allows them to “hear” your concerns.
Sharing articles from experts on the types of scams that are going on now can also be a passive way to educate without creating friction. CARP and AARP (Canadian and American associations of retired persons) also put out alerts regularly, as do federal and local law enforcement departments. “Have you heard about this?” is a great way to start a conversation without judgment.
You can also use your moments of ‘tech support’ with your parents as a type of show and tell. Ask them if they’ve ever ‘googled’ themselves and show them how much information is available online. This can lead to a conversation about how easy it is for the wrong people to use anyone’s information to cause harm. Chances are they’ve had these discussions with their friends who are their age and they can share those stories with you.
Open, ‘onist’ (honest) conversation is always good. Everyone likes to be heard without being judged or feeling as though they’ve done something wrong. And victims of fraud shouldn’t be seen as having done something wrong, the key is to educate ourselves so we can prevent elder fraud. Empower yourself and your parents with resources and knowledge. And read this article for ideas on how to start the money conversation with your aging parents.