If you’re caring for aging parents, you need to look out for more than just their physical well-being. You also need to protect their financial well-being. This is especially important if your parents are experiencing cognitive decline and are more prone to money mistakes and financial exploitation.
Technology can make it easy to monitor your parents’ financial accounts and get alerts about unusual activity. However, you shouldn’t overlook simple solutions to protecting your parents’ money. One such solution is checking their wallets for things they shouldn’t be carrying.
You can significantly reduce the damage that can be done if their wallets are lost and stolen by removing certain items. Here’s how to persuade them to let you take a peak and what you should pull out and stash somewhere safer.
How to persuade your parents to let you audit their wallets
Your parents might be reluctant to open their wallets for you. So be careful about how you approach them.
Don’t be condescending: Avoid saying anything that might sound condescending, such as “Now that you’ve been diagnosed with dementia, I’m worried that you might lose your wallet,” or “You’re carrying too many things in your wallet that shouldn’t be there.”
Use yourself as an example: Share how you’ve paired down the items in your wallet to only the essentials to lighten your load and to limit the damage that’s done if your wallet is stolen. You could say something like, “I can’t believe I didn’t do this sooner.” Then show them the limited number of items you have (see below for what shouldn’t be in a wallet).
Use a story: Perhaps you know someone whose wallet was stolen, or you could create a story (don’t think of it as lying but rather as a way to protect your parents). Share how difficult it was for the person to repair the damage of having multiple credit cards and personal information such as a Social Security card stolen. Then encourage your parents to let you help them avoid ending up in a similar situation.
If your parents have dementia and aren’t responding rationally to your request to audit their wallets, you might need to remove items when they’re not looking. It doesn’t feel good to go behind their backs, but it’s important to protect their financial well-being. Hang onto the items you remove for safekeeping.
[ See: Dementia and Managing Money: When Your Parent Refuses to Let You Help ]
What to remove from your parents’ wallets
Having the following items in their wallets puts your parents at greater risk of identity fraud and financial fallout. Try to remove as many of these as possible.
Social Security cards: If thieves get your parents’ Social Security numbers, they can open new accounts and lines of credit in their names, file fraudulent tax returns to claim refunds, claim their government benefits and more.
Medicare or health insurance cards: Your parents only need to carry these cards when they go to doctor’s appointments, get medical care or get prescriptions filled. Carrying them regularly puts them at risk of medical identity theft—which can happen if thieves get their cards and use them to get medical care and rack up fraudulent healthcare charges.
Multiple credit cards: Limit the number of credit and debit cards your parents carry to just one of each to reduce the damage that can be done if their wallets are stolen. If your parents have dementia, it can be a good idea to replace all of their credit and debit cards with just one prepaid credit card to limit both their spending and the risk of fraud.
PINS and passwords: Don’t let your parents carry a cheat sheet with their debit card PIN or account passwords. Help them sign up for a digital password manager, such as the one provided by account-monitoring service Carefull. Or, if they have memory loss, give them a prepaid credit card that won’t require a PIN.
Blank checks: If your parents use checks, encourage them to keep them separate from their wallet. If possible, persuade them to switch to a debit card or credit card to make payments because it will be easier to repair the damage than if a checkbook is stolen.
Excess cash: Again, a debit or credit card is a better option because your parents are more likely to get their money back if a thief steals it and they report fraudulent charges quickly. If a thief steals a wallet stuffed with cash, the money is gone. If they insist on carrying cash, encourage them to limit it to $50 or less.
Multiple gift cards: Your parents won’t be able to replace gift cards if they are stolen unless they have the card numbers, activation receipts or purchase receipts.
Spare keys: If your parents keep a key to their home in their wallet and lose that wallet, a thief can easily figure out where they live from their address on their driver’s license.
Persuading your parents to let you help them pare down the items in their wallets is essential to protecting their financial well-being. If you get pushback, keep trying with different approaches. You might eventually find one that works, or your parents might simply give in and let you help.
[ Keep Reading: How to Protect Your Parents’ Finances if They Have Alzheimer’s Disease ]