“Scams are everywhere. They may come in the form of an email, letter, or a phone call. Most of us know better than to fall for them. After all, why would a Nigerian prince want to offer us $10 million?”
This was part of an article offered to us for publication. The author went on to say:
“However, the elderly often fall for these schemes. Those just getting their first email account may be excited to receive an email from a stranger. This is especially true if they are lonely and their family doesn’t visit much. Plus, seniors often have extra time on their hands that makes them more vulnerable.”
Is the author saying that seniors are too trusting and naive to distinguish scams from legitimate emails?
The truth is that most seniors are no more naive than younger people. Here’s why:
- Seniors who are most likely to use the Internet today are more sophisticated than in the past.
- Scammers have grown much more sophisticated than in the past. (For examples, see my article, “Identity Theft – Email Scams Target Seniors.”)
Most articles about scams generally fail to deal with email, mail and online scams that, in my opinion, cause the majority of the problems for seniors:
- The Grandparent and IRS phone call scams;
- Fake charities (especially around the holidays); and
- Potentially the biggest problem, INSECURITY and its companion, DESPERATION.
According to AARP’s 2015 updated report, Food Insecurity Among Older Adults, “…The overall rate of food insecurity remains about [14%].” In other words, more than 1 of every 7 seniors can’t afford to buy all of the food they need.
(The USDA defines food insecurity as “the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.” There are four key terms in that definition: access, sufficient quantity, affordable and nutritious. Of these, “affordability” has received the most attention.”)
These seniors live in continual anxiety. They have to decide every day between eating or taking medications which they cannot live without. Anxiety like this often leads to unwise financial actions such as responding to online scams, fake charities, excessive gambling, e.g., spending too much on their states’ Lottery games, etc., etc., etc. In other words …
Desperate people do desperate things.
If you are concerned that your parent might be having financial trouble, don’t start by asking to monitor their financial accounts. Instead, look first for signs of potential trouble, such as:
- Unopened mail — past due bills — mishandled finances
- Poor housekeeping / home maintenance — unsafe conditions
- Unfilled prescriptions
- Unexplained weight loss
- Spoiled / outdated food in the refrigerator
- Little nutritious food in the house
If you find a pattern of these signs, educate yourself about the various scams before you try to help your parent. You may also wish to review our article, How to Talk with Your Parent about Their Money.
Then, use a mutual discovery approach. That is, instead of asking to monitor your parent’s financial accounts, it’s best to be able to show them scams that you have received … and then asking them if they’ve seen anything like it themselves. If so, the discovery door can be opened in a way that doesn’t seem to your parent that they are being treated like a child.