It’s heartbreaking to hear stories of people losing money (even their life savings) as a result of fraud or financial exploitation, especially if they are older and financially vulnerable. In fact, it’s quite common. People age 70 and older reported losses of $567 million in 2022.1 You know your parents could be at risk, and you want to protect them, but how?
One place to start is by looking for warning signs that your parents have been victimized, or are at risk of being influenced, manipulated, or coerced by a stranger or someone they know.
- Unusual bank account activity, including large or unexplained withdrawals, and nonsufficient fund notices
- Missing checks, credit cards, or financial statements
- Unpaid bills
- Lost money or valuables that can’t be located after a thorough search
- Relationships with people who seem to have undue influence
- Unexplained changes to legal documents
- Declining memory and decision-making skills
Regularly checking in with your parents may help you spot issues that need to be addressed. If your parents have fallen victim to a financial scam or are being pressured for money from someone they know, they may be embarrassed or reluctant to tell you, even if you ask. Do your best to remain objective and nonjudgmental, and patiently listen to their views while expressing your own concern for their well-being.
Laying some groundwork to help prevent future incidents is also important. For example, talk to your parents about how they might handle common scams. Let them know it’s a good idea to get a second opinion from you before acting on any request for information or money, even if it seems to come from their financial institution, a well-known company, law enforcement, a government agency such as the IRS or Social Security Administration, or even a grandchild in trouble.
Encourage them to set up appointments with their elder law attorney or financial professional to talk about concerns and legal and financial safeguards. They might also want to add layers of protection to their financial accounts, such as naming a trusted contact or setting up account alerts.
People are often reluctant to report financial fraud or exploitation, either out of embarrassment or fear of being wrong. But if you suspect your parents have been victimized, you can get help from many sources, including the National Elder Fraud Hotline, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Justice. You can call (833) 372-8311 to be connected with case managers who will assist you and direct you to additional resources.