You’d think that only the seediest of human beings would prey on the elderly and, though you’d be right, you’d be surprised by how many are willing to sink to such lows. Every year senior citizens in the U.S. lose billions to scammers, the vast majority of which work through digital and phone networks.
For those of us with aging parents, this is both a stressful and thorny issue. It is difficult to address the dangers of scam artists without coming off as condescending, or threatening a parent’s sense of independence. Though issuing a stern warning or demanding power of attorney may seem like the tidiest solution, such a tactic risks emotional fallout and, what’s more, may worsen the situation. Taking over a parent’s financial autonomy threatens their personal agency, and scam artists are psychological manipulators well-aware that threatened people are prone to decisive (read: ill-considered) financial choices.
Psychology can also work in your favor in these instances, however. If, say, you learn that a parent is playing sweepstakes or making a “double your money investment,” ask their advice on how you can do the same. Your parent won’t want you to lose out and might respond to your query with a warning. Cue your response: “Then why do you do it?” A little bit of delicately played reverse psychology might lead them to recognize the scam, themselves.
The above tactic belongs to a general principle: don’t shame or blame. Stepping into the child role and reminding your parents all they taught you will help them gain clarity. Point out that when you were young, they insisted you don’t trust strangers—especially those with an agenda. Prompt them to do the same.
Another line to take in conjunction with those already mentioned is thoughtful explanation. Elderly parents grew up in a world uninfected by internet opportunists. Without getting into the nuance of coding, point out that no matter what a pop-up says, you can’t win a contest you didn’t enter and no website shells out millions for receiving ten thousand visits. Likewise, point out that a government agency will never solicit personal details over the phone and no prince is out there sending emails seeking holders for his fortune.
While solid strategies, all of these are much harder to execute if you live far away—as is often the case. If this is you, consider enlisting a trusted neighbor to be your eyes and ears. If able, ask them to take note of the sort of mail arriving to the house and whether there may be a pattern of scam phone calls. Often, con artists work off of lists of people considered easy targets. Once listed, your parents may begin to receive a deluge of attempts.
Finally, be sure that you, yourself, know the risks. Common scams include phony lottery and sweepstakes seeking upfront entry or collection fees; government imposters claiming to represent Social Security or Medicare; callers claiming to be a grandchild in deep trouble needing immediate financial assistance; offers of discounted medication; and credit card or investment fraud.
Tackling such worries head-on and with love is an act of caring. Done thoughtfully and delicately, such an intervention may not only save your parents money, but also reassure them that you are invested in supporting them throughout the aging process.
Contact the Estate Planning Law Group of Georgia, James M. Miskell, P.C.
In our many years of experience helping families and individuals protect the assets they’ve worked so hard to accrue, we’ve learned quite a bit about the “human” side of estate planning. We take a compassionate approach to estate planning, and are happy to guide clients through the delicate conversations that come along with it. If you’d like to learn more about our estate planning law firm, contact us using this brief form today. A member of our legal team will be in touch shortly.