Online scams. Telephone fraud. Adware, malware, computer viruses and worms. Bogus tech support. There are so many ways that seniors are targeted by fraud.
And not all of frauds are financial. Some, like the fake news phenomenon — including hyper-partisan propaganda (right and left), misdirecting “clickhole” sites, clickbait leads, and satire pieces misrepresented as responsible reporting — take advantage of those who aren’t tech-savvy, and on people’s fears or core beliefs, in order to motivate them to think or act a certain way.
It’s a brave, new digital world. How can family caregivers protect their older loved ones? Let’s explore that questions.
Should older people live in fear of being scammed?
No. But there are some excellent reasons why folks — especially seniors — should be vigilant. Older people are a disproportionately targeted group.
Criminals steal seniors’ identities, con them out of savings through fake charities and causes, defraud them with telemarketed pyramid schemes and junk investments, and cause general mayhem.
Just as city hucksters, back in the old days, used to travel out to the country to prey upon salt-of-the-earth types, online no-accounts love to trawl open community websites like Craigslist, auction sites like eBay, dating sites, and social media platforms to keep a lookout for any “noob” — short for “newbie,” tellingly rhymes with “rube” — who might come along.
Criminals often look for cues — unscreened calls, consistent mistypes or misspellings online, naïve social media posts or comments, fake news shares and the like — that indicate a senior is vulnerable or otherwise not completely in his or her natural element. And then they pounce.
You, and your senior loved one, should always exercise prudence. Here are some tips for keeping your aging parent or grandparent safe, without shaming or insulting him or her.
Discuss, don’t scold
Why didn’t you just throw that letter away? Mom, don’t you check your caller ID? For goodness’ sakes, stop sharing fake news, Dad.
None of these are a sound approach to protecting your loved one. Instead of scolding your older relative, reason things out with him or her. Try to help him or her look at things through a more critical lens.
Sounds interesting, Mom, and I see why you’d interested in buying into an annuity that promises a 25% annual return. I’d feel better about it, though, if we could run the contract by your lawyer before you sign. Shouldn’t we make sure you’re well-protected?
But Grandpa, if you paid that truck off two years ago, why would someone purporting to be from the dealership call you up now and tell you you need to pay off by tomorrow a balance on a service contract you don’t remember signing?
Dad, is that social media share about “killer clowns” running loose in town credible if no local authorities are even quoted in the story? Did you see anything about it on the TV news or in the paper?
If something sounds too good to be true, double down
Some senior care experts and psychologists recommend using reverse psychology to trigger your older parent’s sense of caution.
Say, for example, you learn that your mother has been giving money to a person online who promises to double her money in short order.
She might not think much about her own financial peril, but you’re her baby. If you indicate you might be interested in giving your life savings to the same person, her maternal instinct to shield you might kick in, and cause her to look more critically at what she’s been doing with her own money.
Be a watchful eye and offer a helping hand - don’t blame
Often, when people realize that they may have been duped, they’re too embarrassed to extricate themselves from the scam without help. Fraudsters know this and will take advantage of a senior’s sense of embarrassment when they want to string out the play.
If you discover your older loved one is in over his or her head, don’t shout, don’t blame and allow your elder a face-saving out. Do your best to control the damage, quietly involve the authorities as necessary, and help your loved one recover with dignity.
Enlist outside help
If you suspect your parent has been victimized by online or wire fraud, you can also contact the FBI’s Louisville field office. The Bureau has jurisdiction in interstate commerce matters and stands ready to assist you and your family.
Learn more about Episcopal Church Home’s person-centered approach to senior care.
If your older loved one needs residential retirement care in Louisville, we’d love to show you the difference holistic care can make in seniors’ overall well-being.
Click here to learn more about our senior services — from assisted living to residential memory care — then come take a tour of our Kentucky retirement community.