Concerned your aging parents may fall victim to a scam? Of course you are. Fraud is everywhere. But how do you discuss the risks and fraud protection techniques without making your parent feel that you don’t trust their judgment?
First, it’s important to understand that your parents probably have a different perspective on fraud and scams than you do. Back in their day, expectations of people and businesses were very different. They probably did not lock their doors. A handshake carried the same binding significance as signing a contract. They believed that people were good and took them at their word. Even though times have changed, this mindset persists. Unfortunately, it is this blind trust and false sense of security that makes seniors an easy target for scammers.
Your parents’ pride and desire to maintain their independence may also prevent them from asking for and receiving help. This could be one of the reasons why, when they do fall victim to fraud, they never tell anyone else about what happened. It may also explain why they become defensive when you try to talk to them about fraud. They are adults, they know how to handle their money, they can make their own decisions and they don’t need you protecting them. It is their job to protect you. Sound familiar?
Have you ever tried to warn your parents about phishing emails or caller ID spoofing? Were they receptive or defensive? Even if they have embraced new technologies and use them fairly well, there may be aspects of these devices and services that they do not fully understand. Therefore, your parents may be unaware of what sensitive information is available about them at the push of a button and how one wrong move can leave them vulnerable to identity theft.
Today, the world is at your fingertips. A few clicks is all it takes to find out almost everything about a person. There are websites where personal information, Social Security numbers, bank account information and credit card numbers are all available for purchase. Yes, these are illegal, but since when do criminals abide by the law?
The Internet can also provide scammers with the tools necessary to conceal their true identity, making their ploys even more difficult to recognize. One such tool enables scammers to manipulate the sender information in an email. Just because an email message appears to be from your bank does not mean it really is. This is a common technique used in phishing emails. With spear phishing emails, the scammer will even make the message appear to be coming from a trusted individual, such as a friend or family member.
Another such tool gives criminals the ability to manipulate caller ID. When they call an unsuspecting person, their caller ID will falsely show that a notable agency or business like the IRS or American Express is calling. This scamming technique is called “spoofing” and was used on a client of mine. He received a call from someone claiming to be an employee at his mortgage company. The caller told my client that his last mortgage payment was short by a few cents and then offered to take my client’s payment over the phone to avoid late payment fees. The caller simply needed the routing and account numbers for my client’s bank account. My client believed he was really speaking with his mortgage company because the caller knew the exact amount of his mortgage payment and his caller ID displayed the name of the company. Unfortunately, my client provided the information.
As with many victims, my client did not realize that the scammer was able to obtain the name of his mortgage company and the amount of his mortgage payment through a simple Internet search of public records. He also did not realize that caller ID could be manipulated. His lack of technological acumen combined with his trusting nature made him the perfect target. His sense of pride and personal responsibility prevented him from asking for help in verifying the caller before sending the money. It also prevented him from telling his family he was a victim.
Tips for Talking to Aging Parents About Fraud
To avoid a devastating scenario like the one above, it is important to begin a dialogue with your parents about how to recognize common scams and protect themselves from exploitation. Use the following pointers to get the conversation started.
- Discuss the differences between “now” and “then.”
Most seniors love to talk about “how things used to be.” Take advantage of this. Ask them why and how they think things have changed. This is a great ice breaker to start the conversation about technology and how criminals and scams have evolved.
- Search the Internet.
Ask Mom and Dad if they have ever searched their name on the Internet. If not, do this quick experiment with them. This will help them see firsthand how much information is readily available about them online. It will also allow you to say things like, “Wow, can you imagine how scammers might use this information?” It is much easier to convey the risks that come with certain kinds of technology if you allow your parents to connect the dots themselves.
- Show, don’t tell.
When you share an official scam alert with your parents, it adds credibility to the concern, especially when the alert comes from a federal agency. When a warning only comes from you, they may think that you’re being dramatic or that it’s highly unlikely they’d ever be targeted by such a scheme. A few online sources for alerts include the FBI Common Fraud Schemes Database, the Federal Trade Commission Most Recent Scam Alerts List and the IRS Tax Scams and Consumer Alerts Newsroom. Some of these organizations even allow you to sign up to receive email notifications of new alerts. By sharing alerts with your parents, you can provide them with important information about new scams and how to avoid them without coming across as if you are telling them what to do.
- Share resources.
One way to indirectly educate your parents about fraud protection/prevention is by providing them with how-to articles. This allows them to learn about the topic on their own without asking for help. You could also explain that you used a particular article to protect yourself and thought they might be interested. AgingCare.com has a collection of articles pertaining to Frauds and Scams that can be shared with senior parents, such as How to Spot (and Stop) a Phishing Email.
- Communicate, don’t dictate.
Talking with your parents (as opposed to talking at your parents) goes a long way. They have spent their entire lives making their own decisions and handling the consequences. By engaging them in conversation instead of telling them what to do, you are widening their perspective on their own terms. Even if they are not initially receptive or concerned about fraud protection, you will have at least planted the seed. If they do happen to receive a sketchy phone call or email one day, perhaps they will think twice about offering up any personal information. They may even feel comfortable enough to tell you about their experience.
Talking to your parents about fraud is easy when you respect their world view. Parents, just like everyone else, don’t like to feel inferior or dismissed. They want to live independently and make their own decisions. By using these tips, you will empower them with knowledge and resources, so they are able to recognize and prevent fraud on their own.