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How to Protect Your Parents From Fraud

4 strategies that safeguard their data and identity

By becoming the point of contact for your parents' accounts you protect them from fraud.

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En español | What can you do to keep predators from scamming your parents out of the money they saved over a lifetime?

Part of the problem is that laws designed to protect their privacy can handcuff your efforts to intervene to help. “You'll need your parents’ consent to monitor accounts,” says Dean Graybill, a Vice President for Litigation with AARP Foundation. “and they'll need to give you power of attorney to act on their behalf.” 

A rubber stamp with

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Is ink enough to protect your id?

Identity-protection stamps are becoming an increasingly popular tool for covering up private information on the papers you throw out. Made by ExcelMark, Guard Your ID, Vantamo and others, these stamps or rollers often cost less than $10.

Dave Billhimer, sales director for Guard Your ID, says the stamp patterns — small letters arranged tightly together — cover up information better than a marker. His company's stamps use a “specially formulated, oil-based ink” so that it won't wash away with water, he says.

These products are a step forward, but “cross-cut shredding is still best” for guaranteeing bad guys can't steal data from your garbage, says Kathy Stokes, AARP director of fraud prevention programs. She notes that some consumers have reported the ink from stamps can wash off with rubbing alcohol. If you do use a stamp, she advises limiting it to low-risk data like your address. Skip entirely on things like Medicare or credit card statements; shred those instead. —Owen Stidman

To get your parents to cede that control, you'll need patience and trust. Experts at AARP's Fraud Watch Network advise against putting parents on the defensive by getting upset with them. The best course: lead with empathy and compassion. If you can open the door to having your help accepted, here's a checklist of what you can do:

1. Protect their identities

  • Ask to go over their credit reports with them. Be certain that someone else hasn't opened an account in your parents’ names.
  • Help them put a credit freeze in place to ensure new credit can't be opened in their names.
  • Ask your parents not to carry their social security cards, and to give out their ssn only when absolutely necessary.

2. Safeguard their phones

  • Make sure your loved ones have a voicemail system, and ask them to let any call go there if it's from a number that they don't know.
  • Ask questions like, “what would you do if someone called and said your grandchild is in trouble?” running through scenarios will help keep them from getting caught off guard.
  • Get a call-blocking app to screen out spam calls on their smartphones.

3. Become their advocate

  • Be sure you are listed as a trusted contact on their investment accounts.
  • If your parents are not ready to give you power of attorney over their accounts, ask them to authorize investment firms to send you duplicate copies of statements.
  • Check the credentials of your parents’ financial adviser at brokercheck.finra.org.

4. Upgrade their tech

  • Make sure that computers are running the latest version of windows and that other updates have been completed. if necessary, purchase late-generation virus protection software.
  • Check that their wi-fi network at home is password protected.
  • Help them manage their passwords. explore options that work for them but also protect critical accounts.

AARP’s Fraud Watch Network can help you spot and avoid scams. Sign up for free “watchdog alerts," review our scam-tracking map, or call our toll-free fraud helpline at 877-908-3360 if you or a loved one suspect you’ve been a victim.

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