Concerned your aging parents may fall victim to a scam? Of course you are. Fraud is everywhere. But how do you have "the talk" 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 frauds and scams than you do.

Back in your parents' day, they did not lock their doors. A handshake was the equivalent of signing a contract. They believed that people were good and took them at their word. Even though times have changed, this mindset remains. Unfortunately, it is their blind trust that makes them an easy target for scams.

Your parents' pride of personal responsibility may also prevent them from asking for and receiving help. This could be one of the reasons that when they do become victims of fraud they never tell anyone. It may also explain why they become defensive when you try to talk to them about fraud. They are an adult, 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 talk to your parents about phishing emails? Were they receptive or defensive? Technology is new to them, something they do not understand. Remember, their generation has pride for personal responsibility. Not wanting to admit this, they may become defensive when confronted. Resulting in their refusal to understand technology and how it works.

If they don't understand how technology works, your parents may be unaware of what information is available about them at the push of a button. Today, the world is at your fingertips. A simple click or two is all it takes to find out almost everything about anyone. There are websites where social security, 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. These tools are found everywhere on the Internet. One such tool is the ability to manipulate caller ID. This tool allows a scammer to make the caller ID display anything that will help him with the scam. He could make it say that the IRS or American Express is calling.

Another tool available online is the ability to manipulate the sender information in an email. Just because the email claims to be from the bank does not mean it really is from the bank. This is a common technique used in phishing emails. With spear phishing emails, the scammer will make the email appear to be coming from a person of trust, such as a friend or family member.

This scam was used on a client of mine: He received a call from someone claiming to be his mortgage company. The caller told my client that his last mortgage payment was short by a few cents. The caller then offered to take my client's payment over the phone so my client could avoid late payment fees. The caller simply needed the routing and account numbers for my client's bank account. My client believed it was his mortgage company because the caller knew the amount of his mortgage payment and the caller ID had the name of his mortgage 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 technology know-how combined with his trusting nature made him the perfect target. His sense of pride and personal responsibility prevented him from asking for help before sending the money. It also prevented him from telling his family he was a victim.

Tips for Talking about Fraud

  • Discuss the differences between "now" and "then." Most parents love to talk about "how things used to be." Take advantage of this. Ask them why they think things have changed. This is a great ice breaker to start the conversation about technology and how scams have evolved.
  • Search the Internet. Ask them if they have ever searched their name on the Internet. If not, do it with them. This will help them see first hand how much information is 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 convince them of the risks if they come up with the idea themselves.
  • Show, don't tell. When you share a scam alert with your parents, it adds the "who says so besides you" credibility. Especially when the alert comes from a federal agency. A few sources for alerts are the FBI, the Federal Trade Commission, and the IRS websites. Some of them allow you to sign up to receive email notifications of new alerts. By showing your parents the alerts, you are able to provide them with important information without them thinking you are telling them what to do.
  • Indirect education. 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 it themselves without asking for help. You could also tell them that you used the article to protect yourself and you thought they might be interested. Websites like AgingCare.com provides numerous articles to share with parents. One such article is How to Spot (and Stop) a Phishing Email.
  • Communicate, don't dictate. Talking with your parents (as opposed to talking to your parents) goes a long way. They have spent their entire lives making their own decisions and taking pride in their personal responsibility of those decisions; good or bad. By engaging them in conversation, as opposed to telling them what to do, you are widening their perspective on their own terms.

Talking to your parents about fraud is easy when you do it from their perspective. Parents, just like everyone else, don't like to be made to feel inferior or dismissed. They want to 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.