We are heading into the “tis the season” season and while you may think that I am talking about turkey and mistletoe, I am not. I am talking about the scamming season. And especially those vermin who prey on the elderly.
Each year seniors lose billions of dollars to scammers through a myriad of scenarios all of which are cloaked in authority and respectability. Often the senior is offered an unbelievable deal on a product or service that has a known value, other times it is a fundraiser for victims of some catastrophe that has made national news such as a flood, earthquake or fire. These scum suckers watch the news just like the rest of us but when we see a story that deals with great loss we get emotional but the scammers get gleeful and create campaigns to convert our emotion into a personal payday for them.
Our parents are targets and if they fall victim to a scam, chances are you will never hear about it. But surely mom will tell me if she was taken advantage of and lost money. Not so quick, let’s peel back a few layers of this onion and see what we find. First many adult children of aging parents are taking on the role of protector and many times finances play a large part.
“When protectors take over finances or lecture parents about their mistake, it plays right into the scammers’ hands by threatening the target’s independence,” says Anthony Pratkanis, a social psychologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and coauthor of Weapons of Fraud with AARP’s Douglas Shadel. “For scam victims to admit
they were wrong means they’re stupid and unable to take care of themselves,” Shadel said.
So the parent could view this as being at the top of a slippery slope and once over the edge, what’s next? Give up the car keys, move in with the kids or assisted living? So if they really don’t have to divulge anything to you they are protecting their turf, their independence and you, well you just don’t have a need to know.
As Director of a home care agency in the Phoenix area this is something I have seen again and again. Son: “Mom, why didn’t you tell me that you fell?”. Mom: “I didn’t think you had to know, I handled it and I’m OK.” Just replace the word fell with scam, theft, fraud, etc. If what happened is not life threatening, then the son will never know.
So what can we do to keep our parents free of the jaws of these sharks? As usual we have to tread lightly in broaching the subject for the fear of damaging what could be a very fragile familial relationship. Here are some tips that might work for you.
Support – Don’t play the blame game or give any indication that you are disappointed in them or that they should feel shameful. Remind them of what they taught you many moons ago and that is don’t trust strangers and if it is too good to be true then it probably isn’t.
Slam the Door – Tell your parent that in this situation its ok to be rude. Scammers know that if they can keep the senior engaged long enough that they will most likely agree with their proposal or offering. Cut the caller off, interrupt them and tell mom that she is not being rude she is dealing with a scoundrel. If the tricksters are at the door say no thank you and close the door, if they are on the phone say put me on your do not call list, if it’s a direct mail piece trash it. Don’t be polite, don’t wait for them to pause (they won’t) and don’t read their solicitation.
Pick up the Mail – Everyday, especially if they have a curbside mailbox. Another thing to pick up is a shredder and shred every credit card or bank solicitation that has their name on it. You need to keep all information on the parents out of the hands of those who would steal from them.
Turn Victims into Victors – If you are too late and the thieves have done their deeds and the parents are not only out money but probably pretty embarrassed too. Be strong, tell them it is time to stop being a victim and it’s time to get the police involved. If they can help to get this scum locked up then we are all a lot safer.
Other things to do – Have an unlisted phone number, put their telephone numbers on the do not call list, check their credit report through one of the free services and subscribe to an ID theft protection.
About the author, Michael Simpson. Teresa and Michael Simpson have two Visiting Angels franchises in the West Valley and along with over thirty five Angels take care of hundreds of seniors every year. They love what they are doing and are blessed with a dedicated and compassionate staff.