Issues to Consider
Understanding the ruses.
There are a myriad of ways to get duped: via Internet, email snail mail, doorbell solicitations for unneeded services (roofers and painters) and bogus telemarketers.
Add to that charity “fundraisers,” “easy to win” sweepstakes and lotteries, free lunch seminars to sell products, veterans and reverse mortgage scams, living trust and annuities come-ons, foreclosure rescue ploys, Medicare prescription fraud, and unscrupulous financial advisors.
Putting offenders on your radar.
They could be household help (i.e. a caregiver or cleaner) or a younger person who suddenly swoops into your parent’s life and becomes her “new best friend” or constant companion.
Sadly, family members, neighbors and “friends” can also be unscrupulous. It’s not so much that your Mom may be naïve as that she would have no reason to think someone she knows well would be dishonest.
Did you know that women are twice as likely to become victims and most live alone?
Spotting the red flags.
- Increased, unexplained credit card expenses, unexplained withdrawals
- Not paying bills, buying food or medication
- Being secretive about money
- Newly authorized signers on accounts, changes in important documents as deeds, mortgages, will, trust, property title and other important documents
More warning signs.
- Unnecessary house repairs
- Missing items and funds
- An chummy new “friend” or caregiver becomes overly over controlling and overly possessive and limits your parent’s contact with family members
Broaching the subject.
Get your parents to be open about their finances and talk about scams and fraudulent behavior. Ask Dad if there is anything or anyone making him uncomfortable or pressuring him to do something with his money or accounts. Say, “Have there recently been withdrawals from your bank account that you can’t remember making? Have you made any recent changes to your will or given someone power of attorney?”
What do I tell my parents?
It may seem obvious, but remind your family member not to answer the door to a stranger (of course!) and that people who ring the bell and solicit business for, say, roofing or painting, are unlikely to be legit. Many cities and towns require anyone going door to door to register with the town.
A common ploy is to say that they are working in your area or that your neighbors are using them. Tell Mom that she should never sign a contract, divulge personal information or give a deposit. No pressure tactics. If your parent is interested in the service, they can run it by you or another family member.
Tell them not to worry about being rude, and to hang up if they feel uncomfortable. Also, drill them on never giving out their Social Security, Medicare, credit card or banking information, including ATM PIN number over the phone.
The best way to prevent abuse and fraud is to stay in close contact with your parent and to make sure they are capable of handling their own finances. If not, is there someone trustworthy in or outside the family with excellent financial sense?
Even if Dad can pay the bills, it’s a good idea for another person (you? a money manager?) to look at their credit card bills and bank statements regularly to make sure nothing is amiss.
A durable financial power of attorney gives you or someone else designated access to their accounts and money. When children help parents with their money, one safeguard is to have more than one person oversee the accounts.
Taking more precautions.
Don’t let paid caregivers or anyone you don’t trust have access to your parent’s checkbook, bank accounts, ATM card of credit cards. If a professional caregiver (or a family member, for that matter) does have access to your parent’s money, be sure there are checks and balances. And, of course, before you hire that caregiver, get a criminal background check.
Many scammers find their victims on the phone. To reduce that possibility, call the National Do Not Call Registry to prohibit telemarketers from calling their number. Another tip: shred receipts that have their credit or debit card information.
Adding another layer of protection.
Companies are helping, too. EverSafe, for instance, works through the Web or an app (monthly service fee). The service identifies suspicious activity on accounts, monitors credit reports and sends alerts if something doesn’t seem right. Another company, True Link, has a special, prepaid Visa card that lets you decide where the card works, and doesn’t. You can manage withdrawals, see what a paid caregiver has just spent, let’s say, monitor an account and get tipped off in real time to suspicious activity.