In 2018, the Federal Trade Commission received 3 million complaints of financial scams. Needless to say, that’s a lot of scams. When someone’s experienced fraud there’s a variety of emotions they may feel—everything from shame and embarrassment to feeling helpless and scared. In many cases, the scammer can’t be traced and the money that was stolen is lost forever.
According to a study in the American Journal of Public Health, which reported on 12 studies involving roughly 41,700 individuals, people both young and old reported receiving emails requesting validation of their account profiles, a notification of their supposed lottery winnings in another country or pleas for money to help a relative who’s in trouble.
Plenty of smart, “cognitively intact” adults fall victim to scams every single year, even more so now during the Covid-19 pandemic, making it important to reach out to your loved one and have a conversation with them on what fraud looks like, how they’re vulnerable to it, and how they can protect themselves. Conversations with our parents, grandparents, or the people we care for aren’t always easy, so we’ve compiled a list of tips on how to make this conversation a little easier.
Speak from a place of compassion, not condensacion
This isn’t a conversation about estate planning, it’s a conversation about daily financial management. Experts agree that it’s imperative to have this conversation early on, before signs of age-related cognitive decline, and—hopefully, before a scam takes place, as many older adults don’t tell their family or loved ones when they’ve been scammed for fear of being judged. The last thing they want is to feel like they’re stupid or that the person talking to them about elder fraud thinks they don’t know how to handle their money or that they can’t take care of themselves. Money, cognitive decline, and potential loss of personal freedom and autonomy are all sensitive topics for older adults.
Ease your senior into the conversation by mentioning a news story you heard about frauds targeting seniors and gently gauge them on their relationship with money, technology, and how they’re protecting themselves. By engaging with them in conversation on the topic instead of telling them what to do you’re expanding their knowledge on the issue. The conversation doesn’t need to be a big family meeting where the senior may feel sensitive to being “ganged up on.” Instead, just have a casual conversation, one-on-one with them, or whatever feels most natural. It may take several attempts but initiating the conversation at least helps plant small seeds of information that may prove to be beneficial down the road.
Many older adults prefer to research information on their own and determine their own opinion on the matter. If your loved one seems hesitant to have a conversation on the topic or changes the subject, offer a variety of resources they can look into later.
Educate them with informational how-to articles like the ones we have on WayWiser where we share everything from the most common scams to what to do if you’ve experienced fraud, and even some fun lifestyle tips for seniors.
Print out a list of some of the most frequent scams and consider putting a magnet on the back of it so they can post it on the refrigerator as an easy reminder. By sharing links and tools to help them you’re empowering them to maintain their independence and freedom.
Keep the lines of communication open and stay educated about fraud
While your parent or older loved one may take it upon themselves to become more savvy on scams targeting older adults, it’s important their caregivers or loved ones are also in the know on the topic. Stay current with the IRS Tax Scam Alerts, especially just after tax season when perpetrators threaten seniors with supposedly unpaid taxes.
Set a Google alert for “elder fraud” or “scams against seniors” so you can know when a new scam is being reported in the news. By regularly having a dialogue with your older adult about crimes being committed against their age group you create an environment where this can easily be discussed and their financial freedom and independence is maintained.