Elder Scams


Though more and more seniors are becoming internet savvy, there are still many who are not. Well meaning children hook their grandparents or parents onto FaceBook, email , even Pinterest without considering the consequence.

The truth is, most seniors are frustrated by technology and their personal skills are hindered by age. Stiff joints, impaired eyesight and failing hearing cause more issues than  they can manage, let alone adding Windows 8. This lack of ability makes them an easy target for scam artists.

Here’s what happens:

Jeff  bought his grandmother a ipad. He subscribed her to the local internet provider, set up her email, opened a FaceBook account, then quickly punched, slid and tapped his way through an explanation. Grandmother was touched Jeff had take such time and effort to help her “connect” with family across the country, but when he left she’d forgotten how to unlock the ipad. Jeff had written down a few vague instructions but nothing made sense to his grandmother. A friend stopped by his grandmother’s house one day and showed her how to “open” the email then left. Feeling confident, Jeff’s grandmother began to open email.

One email was addressed from her bank. The bank logo was even on the email. Inside was a request for a verification of her Social Security number as well as the bank account number. It looked official and before long, Jeff’s grandmother had entered her Social Security number and her banking information. Little did she know it was a scam. Within hours her bank account was drained and her identity had been stolen. Jeff’s grandmother lost all her savings and now had thousands of dollars of debt.

So how do we protect our seniors from scams? Technology is wonderful for most of us, but there is a great chasm that separates it from our seniors. Consider the dangers before allowing family members to connect an elderly loved one to the internet.

*Stiff joints prevent seniors from sometimes pressing the small turn-on switches for tablets or even computers.

*Hearing loss prevents seniors for communicating well on cell phones and weakened eyesight makes reading a small cell phone screen difficult. Keep a landline and portable phone intact.

*Naiveity allows the elderly to be taken in by email that looks “okay.”

Technology is not the only place seniors can be deceived. Convincing phone calls can sound like important banking officials or even city officials who can drive aging parents into contracts with paving companies, banks or even home repairs that are unwarranted and once paid, are never completed.

How do you protect your aging parent?

*Devise a password only family members know. Make it obscure such as red couch or Westinghouse refrigerator.  Write that password on a sheet of paper and tape it inside a cabinet that is frequently used by your senior. If someone calls trying to get money, sell a service or confuse your aging parent they can simply ask, “What is my password?” If the right answer is there, chances are it’s a safe family member. Otherwise, hang up.

*Install an intercom at the door. This prevents seniors from opening their door to strangers who might try to work their way into the home and prevents them from being “cased” by shifty individuals.

*Secure an unlisted phone number

*Keep email addresses private and set a strong spam filter in place

*Lock down FaceBook accounts with tight security and do not accept anyone as a friend that you do not know

*Secure a list of individuals who can help with certain decisions i.e home repairs, major purchases who can serve as attendees or overseers.

*Cut credit card limits to $500. Limits can easily be lifted if necessary.

*Close duplicate credit cards. i.e keep one Mastercard and Visa and close local department store accounts.

*Pay bills with automatic withdrawal. This prevents papers bills from hitting mailboxes and lessens the opportunity for personal information to be stolen.

*If there are no family members able to monitor bill payments or large purchase amounts, encourage seniors to sign up with trust advisors through their bank who can manage and watch their accounts.

*Avoid private duty caregivers without having done extensive background checks. Going through a company such as Comfort Keepers allows the security of knowing caregivers are safe .

*Secure a Personal Emergency System (PERS unit). These buttons can be worn by the senior and provide instant help in the event of  emergency.

*Install a sturdy and lockable door instead of a screen door on elders homes. This allows them to open their primary door but still have a locked door between them and the person outside.

*Cover garage door windows and low level windows with window films that allow seniors to see out but intruders cannot see in. This is an inexpensive item available at most home improvement stores.

*If possible, install electric garage door openers with private rotating signal remotes to insure safety.

*Purchase a paper shredder so “junk mail” from banks and credit card companies can be easily destroyed.

*Contact credit card companies and remove seniors from their call list.


One last detail. In the event of a death of a senior parent, carefully consider the safety of the surviving parent. When preparing the obituary, don’t list “preceded in death by or survived by.” As much as we want friends and relatives to know the family, scammers search diligently through obituaries looking for any information they can use. Do not place a wreath on the door, or allow the funeral home to place street markers that say, “Slow Funeral”.  This is an open invitation to scammers and burglars.

*Have food deliveries made by one individual as opposed to a number of persons. The less attention drawn toward the surviving parent the safer they are.

*Be sure someone stays at the home when the family is making arrangements or attending the funeral. Have someone who can answer the phone over allowing an answering machine. This shows there are people in the home rather than an empty house.

It’s a sad state of affairs when children have to go to these extremes to protect aging parents. However, this is the world we live in today. Thieves think nothing of the age or situation an individual may be in. Their only desire is to obtain as much cash as quickly as possible. Take time to insure these steps and protect your aging parents from harm and scams that can not only destroy them financially, but also bring physical harm.


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