It’s unfortunate but true: The elderly population is targeted for financial abuse or exploitation. In fact, by some estimates, this type of targeted abuse results in billions of dollars in losses each year. If you have elderly parents, what signs should you watch for to determine their vulnerability? And what can you do to help protect your parents from being victimized?
In regard to the first question — signs of vulnerability — the most important thing to watch for is your parents’ mental state. As you know, many people go through their entire lives with their faculties intact — but even if this is the case with your parents, you still may want to be on guard against them falling prey to unscrupulous operators. And if you have noticed your parents becoming forgetful, confused, overly agitated or showing any other signs of possibly diminished mental capacity, you may want to be particularly vigilant for the appearance of financial irregularities.
If you don’t think your parents are, as yet, victims of fraud or abuse, you can take steps to help protect them. Most importantly, maintain constant communication with them and be aware of what’s going on in their lives. Also, consider the following actions:
Advise parents on precautionary measures. Suggest to your parents that they take several common-sense steps to avoid financial scams. For example, urge them to never give personal information over the phone or in response to emails. Since these types of requests are the most common methods used to perpetrate scams, encourage your parents to put all such solicitations — as well as requests for money — in the “trash” folder. Also, ask your parents to remove paper mail promptly from their mailbox — resourceful identity thieves have been known to steal mail and extract key pieces of personal information from financial statements or correspondence from Social Security. And if your parents don’t already have a paper shredder, present one to them as a gift — and show them how to use it to delete old statements, credit card offers and similar documents.
Check for legal documents. Your parents, like everyone, should have a will and a durable power of attorney. These documents will enable someone they trust implicitly to handle their finances if they can’t. Discussing these types of issues with your parents may not be easy — but it’s certainly important.
Review parents’ situation regularly. Many parents are not comfortable sharing the specifics of their financial situation with their adult children. Yet, as much as you can, try to periodically review your parents’ insurance, banking and investment statements. These meetings give you good opportunities to look for irregularities or suspicious activities, such as significant changes in their spending patterns, unusual cash withdrawals or transfers from their bank accounts, or sudden transfers of assets to a relative or someone outside the family.
Know the professionals. Your parents may not be totally at ease involving you with their financial and tax advisors. However, using your discretion, see if you can accompany your parents when they meet with their advisors. If these people are legitimate professionals, they will not object to your interest in your parents’ affairs — in fact, they should welcome it.
Your parents have done a lot for you. You can help repay them by doing your part to help protect them from threats to their financial security.