Health & Family

Protecting your parents (or yourself) from phone scammers


Q. My parents are in their mid-80s. They recently received a call I suspect was an effort to scam them out of money. While my father does not appear to have any dementia, I worry about him giving in to persistent callers. What can I do to prevent my father from giving money to every real or scam caller?

A. Scammers and telemarketers often target households in ZIP codes where there is a large population of retirees.

“When it comes to older adults, swindlers know that they frequently have a captive audience,” social worker Alina Becker said. She’s coordinator of Elder Abuse Prevention Initiatives at the Alliance for Aging and recommends having a conversation with both your parents about threats to their security and finances. She offered this advice:

“Try to convince your parents to not make any decisions when they get those phone calls. Suggest that they ask the caller for their phone number so that your parent can call them back; this may be enough for the scammer to hang up. Unfortunately, sometimes older adults who may be lonely will be glad to talk to them, or too polite to cut them off.”

“To avoid making your parents feel like they can’t handle these calls on their own, gather several news articles about scams, identity theft, and other types of elder financial abuse to show that this is a common threat and it can happen to anyone!”

I appreciate what a challenging situation this can be. Older adults will assert that they’re still in charge of their finances and have the right to spend their money in any way they wish without oversight. That’s certainly true, but if they have already demonstrated a lack of good judgment and you are seeing additional signs of dementia, it will be necessary to take further steps to protect your parents. This could include adding your name to their checking and credit card accounts so that you can monitor their expenses online, or hiring a daily money manager to provide the closer oversight.

I recommend reading Jeff Opdyke’s book, “Protecting Your Parents’ Money: The Essential Guide to Helping Mom and Dad Navigate the Finances of Retirement.”