I was visiting my parents at the retirement home and prominently displayed on the elevator was a sign warning the residents not to give out personal information on the phone to people claiming to be from the bank, credit card company, or the government.

I find it bizarre that the same old scams keep cropping up time and time again, but they do because they work.

Related: Free seminar – Learn how to get ripped off

Older adults are particularly susceptible to financial scams, but the crimes often go unreported because they are embarrassed or don’t even realize they are being scammed. Also, elderly victims my not report crimes because they may be concerned that their relatives may think they no longer have the capacity to handle their own affairs. Their trusting nature may be their biggest liability.

Are your elderly parents easy prey? How do you protect them from becoming victims? Here are some signs to watch for:

1. They claim to have won a prize

Ask whether they had to pay anything to claim their winnings. Typically scammers tell victims they have to make some kind of payment – taxes or shipping – in order to get their prize. Or, they may have to agree to some sort or demonstration, e.g. vacuum cleaner, to claim their prize. Then they are pressured into a sale.

Related: City Councils – Please ban door-to-door sales

Let your parents know that legitimate sweepstakes don’t require any initial payment – or, especially, a bank account or credit card number. And, say “No, thanks” to the demo offer.

2. They go to “free meal” financial seminars

These seminars target seniors through mailings – and even their church or club – and offer gourmet meals, expert advice and “risk free investment opportunities” with “guaranteed” returns. The food and tips may be free but people who are persuaded to buy these investments end up paying a big price with their unsuitable or risky investment products.

Financial scams are devastating to older adults. It’s not just the wealthy that are targeted and it’s not always strangers who perpetrate them. Especially vulnerable are older widows who may not have had much experience in managing their finances.

3. They offer personal information over the phone

Watch for signs that they are giving out personal information such as bank account and credit card numbers, and social insurance numbers.

Related: Protect yourself from identity theft

Be aware of things they are buying over the phone, such as low cost prescriptions, funeral services, reverse mortgages. Some scammers promise to provide credit card or identity theft protection. Watch for pledges to donate money, especially automatic withdrawals.

Once information is given out to one scammer it might be shared with others, sometimes defrauding the same person repeatedly.

To help your parents avoid telemarketing scams you can register their phone number on the National Do Not Call Registry, although this is not always successful.

Talk frankly with your parents about common scams and tell them to hang up on anyone calling who isn’t a friend or family member.

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4 Comments

  1. Tracey H on July 29, 2015 at 6:30 am

    There’s actually a brain change that happens as we age that makes us more trusting and gullible. If you can explain that to your parents, they won’t think that you think that they’re losing their capacity to manage their affairs, just that you’re concerned they’re more trusting and you want them to be on their guard. And let them know they should phone you if they have any doubts about what they’ve signed up for and you can check it out.

  2. Murray H on July 29, 2015 at 6:39 am

    I am a child of a 90 year old parent and can say that this is a constant challenge. You have a generation that believed that a handshake was as valid as a signature and that you could leave your front door open in case someone wanted to visit you. As posts states not only do they not want you to think they can’t manage their own affairs, they do not want to challenge their own beliefs that they can. As TraceyH stated, let them know you are there to support them, but as I’ve found be even more supportive when they do trip up and sign up for a year subscription to some magazine that they will never read.

  3. Paul N on July 29, 2015 at 3:45 pm

    I have another interesting one to add here. My elderly parent sold her house and moved into assisted living. The real estate agent tipped of a independent Manulife agent who showed up at her door one day trying to sell her high fee, front + back loaded Funds with the cash she received from her sale.
    It was quite an interesting conversation when I confronted him.
    This one of the reasons I remain very cynical about the “help” you receive from some so called “financial planners”. It’s not isolated to a few cases either, there are plenty who offer products really unsuitable for anyone.

  4. Gary on July 30, 2015 at 7:08 am

    Thanks for this post Marie. Lots of good info and advice (suggestions). I constantly remind my 88 year old Mom of these’s weasels!

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