As your parents age, it can be hard to protect them against scams and fraud. Alerting them to common cons and keeping the lines of communication open with them can help. But there’s no way to guarantee that your parents won’t be exploited.
If your parents do become victims, there’s a good chance they won’t even tell you. They might be too embarrassed to admit that someone took advantage of them. Or they might not even realize that they’ve been victimized.
That’s why you need to be on the lookout for signs that your parents or loved ones are victims of elder financial abuse. If you see these red flags, be ready to step in and help.
Know the signs
If you notice any of these indications that your parents are victims of elder financial abuse, don’t be afraid to be nosy. Ask your parents questions about the changes you’ve noticed or behavior that seems unusual. The sooner you get involved, the better your chances of limiting the damage.
A change in your parents’ spending habits: Be wary if money wasn’t an issue for your parents but now they seem to be struggling to make ends meet. They might not have planned well for retirement. However, it could be a sign that they were scammed out of their savings.
Unusual activity in your parents’ bank or credit card account: If you can monitor your parents’ bank account or other financial accounts online, keep an eye out for large or out-of-the-ordinary withdrawals, transfers or charges. Wiring money, in particular, can be a sign that your parents are victims of scams.
New accounts or bills from unknown lenders: If your parents complain that they’re getting bills for accounts they didn’t open or debt collection notices for amounts they don’t owe, this could be a sign that their identity has been stolen. Someone might have used your parents’ personal information to open accounts in their names.
A new love interest in a single parent’s life: Be on the lookout for signs that your parent has become a victim of a sweetheart scam. The scammer will likely communicate only by text or email, will make excuses not to meet in person, will try to escalate the relationship quickly to build trust then start asking for financial help or cash to travel to meet in person.
Investment opportunities that sound too good to be true: Press your parents for details if they tell you they’ve been offered an investment with high returns and no risk or a chance to get rich quick. If it sounds too good to be true or overly complex, they might have been conned into buying a fraudulent investment.
Frequent home repairs: It’s one thing if your parents are making upgrades to their home so they can age in place. However, if the house is in good condition, those frequent repairs could be a sign that your parents are being scammed by a contractor.
Unnecessary medical tests or equipment: Con artists offer free medical screenings and supplies in exchange for patients’ health insurance information – which is then stolen and used fraudulently. So be wary if your healthy parents start getting a lot of tests or medical equipment they don’t need.
A caregiver who isolates your parents: Be wary if a caregiver frequently tells you that your parents can’t come to the phone or aren’t up for a visit. Caregivers who financially exploit older adults tend to prevent them from interacting with other family members so their exploitation can go undetected.
A caregiver who seems flush with cash: If another family member or a paid caregiver is helping your parents, take note if that person buys a new car, starts wearing expensive jewelry or shows signs suddenly coming into money. There could be a logical explanation, but it also could be a sign that the caregiver has been exploiting your parents.
Comments that the caregiver is the only one who cares: If you hear comments such as this, don’t assume that your parents are just trying to make you feel guilty. The caregiver might be manipulating your parents into believing that you no longer care for them and that they should be transferring their wealth or assets to the caregiver.
Know what to do if your parents are victims
If you see any of the signs listed above or other changes in your parents’ behavior, don’t blame them for ending up in a bad situation. Simply offer to help them repair the damage.
Gather as much information as you can from your parents about what happened – how they were approached, what they were told, what information they shared and how much money they think they might have lost. Remember to keep calm as you ask questions so that they don’t get upset and refuse to cooperate.
Help your parents contact their financial institutions to notify them of fraudulent transactions or accounts opened in their names. Visit the websites of the three credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – to put a security freeze on their credit reports so no other lines of credit can be opened in their names if their identities have been stolen. Report the crime to the local police. You also can reach out to your state or local adult protective services department to report exploitation.
If your parents are likely to become victims again, it could be time to discuss the possibility of letting you or another trusted family member get more involved with their finances -- if you aren’t already. You can use an app such as Carefull to monitor their accounts and notify you of suspicious activity. The sooner you can step in and help, the greater your chances of protecting your parents from future exploitation.