Consider setting up online access to your parents' bank and credit card accounts. This will let you watch over their finances from afar. Look for unusual monthly charges, big and small.
Know the risks. The most common scams against the elderly include phony lottery and sweepstakes seeking upfront fees to enter or collect; government impostors posing as reps from Social Security and Medicare; the grandparents scam, in which a grandchild is supposedly in deep trouble; offers for free or discount medications (including anti-aging drugs) or medical equipment; and credit card fraud and investment schemes.
Women are twice as likely as men to fall for elder financial abuse, especially when they're in their 80s and when living alone. Either gender with a Type A personality — used to making quick decisions — most frequently falls for "act now!" scams like fake lotteries. For any scam, an especially vulnerable time is the three years after some major stress, such as the loss of a spouse or a change in health or housing.
Other steps to consider
• Unlist your parents' phone number so scammers can't get it. Consider replacing the landline with a cellphone, where scam calls are less frequent.
• Put your parents' addresses on opt-out lists with the Direct Marketing Association. Once done, legitimate vendors won't send junk mail, and parents will know that what arrives is likely from scammers. That mail should be reported to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
• Check their credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com to ensure that fraudulent new accounts haven't been opened in their names.
• If Mom and Dad won't heed your warnings, AARP can help. You or they can call the AARP Fraud Fighter Call Center at 800-646-2283 toll-free. Expect a voicemail greeting, but messages are usually returned within 48 hours. Says program director Jean Mathisen: "We get a lot of calls from children asking that we contact their parents" about possible scams, and even more from elders suspecting that they have been caught in a scam. "But I don't want to tell my children," they say.
Sid Kirchheimer writes about consumer issues for AARP Media.
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