While all scams are awful, ones that prey on the elderly seem to be the worst. Because elderly people usually have an inherent sense of trust in other people, a certain level of naivety about technology and crime, a fear of asking for help, and a limited income, when they become victims of a scam, the public seems to be especially outraged.
How can you, as a child, help your parent?
When elderly parents become a victim of fraud or a financial scam, the adult children are usually the ones who are left to pick up the pieces after the fact. This can be extremely difficult to do because it is often hard to determine exactly what happened, especially if the parents are declining mentally or are embarrassed to speak about what happened. Regardless of how your parent feels about the situation, it is often hard to recover all of their money. However, there are some certain steps you can take to limit the damage to your parents and prevent them from being scammed again. Below are some of the best ways to help your parents if they have been victims of financial fraud or if you are worried they may be part of a financial scam in the future:
- Power of Attorney – Asking for your parent to give you power of attorney is one way for you to gain easier access to your parents’ accounts and have more control over their accounts. However, many parents refuse this request because they think it will force them to give up control over their finances and their lives completely. If your parents are reluctant to give you power of attorney, they may feel more confident agreeing to a springing power of attorney. This type of power of attorney only takes effect when the parent is determined by a designated person (usually a doctor) to be mentally incapable of managing his or her affairs.
However, even if your parent grants you power of attorney while they are still competent, this may not be completely foolproof. While having this power will help you keep track of and manage your parent’s financial life, it does not prevent your parent from continuing to act on his or her behalf by signing checks or transferring money.
- Empathy – If one of your parents has been scammed, empathy is an essential step to help him or her move forward in a productive way. If you become angry towards your parent, it will make it even more difficult to identify the cause of the victimization because he or she will clam up and not share important details with you.
- Education – You can prevent your parents from being scammed by educating them about possible scams and telling them about red flags to look out for. It is important to regularly communicate with your parent so that you can notice if there are any changes in their behavior, such as submissiveness towards you or a caregiver, or sudden fear that he or she may lose their home.
- Guardianship/Conservatorship: Usually getting a guardian or conservator is considered to be the last resort. A guardianship can only be established when the court determines that an individual is incapable (partially or totally) of handling their personal and financial obligations. In order to get a guardian or conservator appointed, the parties must go through a rigorous and complicated court process. Consequently, it is usually helpful to try other steps before resorting to this.
Concrete Steps to Take When Fraud Has Already Occurred:
If you discover that your parents have been victims of fraud, there are certain steps you should take right away:
- Report the fraud to the local police department - even if an investigation does not identify who was scamming your parents, documenting the fraud can be helpful when you dispute any account charges.
- Alert credit card companies – children should help their parents alert their credit card companies, banks, and any other places where the parent has an account. Children should also review credit card statements for any suspicious activity. Additionally, it is important for children to look at insurance policies and investments to see if there have been any changes in beneficiaries or account ownership.
- Change and un-list landline and cellphone numbers.
Common Types of Fraud to Look Out For:
- Medicare/Health insurance – senior citizens are easy targets for health care scams for several reasons. First, once a person reaches the age of 65, Medicare is automatic. This means that a scammer does not have to shoot in the dark to find a victim. Also, elderly adults receive more frequent health care visits, which means it will be more believable when someone calls posing as a billing clerk or another health care professional collecting money. It is important to remember that your health care is a privacy issue. If somebody calls you to try and determine your parents’ medical information, make sure to call your parents’ health care provider or the Medicare office directly.
- Phone scams – Elderly individuals are perceived to have a lot of free time during the day, which they spend at home. Scammers will call them to offer them “good deals” or even call them and pretend to be the IRS. What is even more alarming is that many senior citizens admit that they did not report the crime because they felt guilty for being so gullible.
- Lotteries/Sweepstakes Scams – scammers go after senior citizens with a sweepstakes or lottery fraud because they know that most elderly people could use the extra money. Scammers play off elderly individual’s fear of running out of money by promising them instant wealth.
- Utilities Scams – senior citizens are often scammed by individuals who pose as representatives from a utility company telling them their utility service will be discontinued if they do not pay immediately.
If you believe someone you love is falling victim to a fraudulent scam, call the attorneys at Smith Strong at (804) 325-1245 or (757) 941-4298. Talking with an attorney at Smith Strong could save the finances of the person you love, as well as your own.