Elder Law Attorney with clients

How can I protect my elderly relatives from being victimized by scam artists?

Most of us are aware of the profusion of scam artists who make continual attempts to steal from others by mail, by phone, and through the internet. We are also aware that the elderly, as the most vulnerable population, are perpetually targeted. Even so, it is extremely disturbing to find that our own parents, grandparents, or other older relatives are falling for pitches intended, gradually or in one fell swoop, to deplete their assets.

At Surprenant & Beneski, P.C., our elder law attorneys are experienced advisors of older Americans and their offspring. We are dedicated to see to it that senior citizens are protected as they age. We know all too well that common attributes of the elderly — lack of mobility, loss of friends to illness or death, lack of familiarity with modern technology, limited income, forgetfulness, and confusion — make them increasingly vulnerable to malicious scams.  

How Surprenant & Beneski Can Help

Over the years, we have found many tactics that prove helpful in steering older adults away from schemes designed to lure them in. We also know how to help middle-aged family members have productive, convincing talks with their older relatives on this subject. In some cases, having a family meeting in our office sets the tone for a more reasoned discussion.

Our skillful elder law professionals are also adept at working with families to determine when and how to prepare the documents that may be needed to protect the elderly from making poor financial decisions. We are always available to have family meetings to discuss the importance of drafting irrevocable trusts and durable powers of attorney to create a pathway for a smooth transfer of power should it become necessary.

Always Approach Older Relatives with Respect 

If you become aware that your mother, father, aunt, or uncle just (or almost) lost a great deal of money or property to a scam artist, you are likely to have an immediate, visceral reaction. Nonetheless, it is in everyone’s best interests to recognize that your family member is no more to blame for this than if she/he were held up at gunpoint.

What Not to Do to Save Your Parents from Being Taken In by a Scam

At all costs, avoid calling your elderly relative “stupid,” “foolish,” “naive,” or “a patsy.” Recognize that by doing this you are blaming the victim. Similarly, if you take a parental posture, you will only make them feel humiliated, angry, and depressed that they are losing their independence. So, refrain from infantilizing your parent by:

  • Grabbing a sweepstakes form they are eyeing, and throwing it away
  • Giving your relative a stern lecture
  • “Punishing” them, for example, by not allowing them to use the phone or computer without permission
  • Telling them they will have to give you power of attorney immediately 

The more you make your older relative feel incapable, the more likely they are to stop using their critical thinking skills and the less likely they are to turn to you for assistance. As a matter of fact, AARP reports that the organization gets a great many calls from elderly scam victims who want help but don’t want to tell their children what happened. It is important for all involved that trust remains unbroken.

Tactics that Work to Help Protect Your Older Relatives from Scams

  • Be proactive — Don’t wait for your relative to be victimized to discuss the topic.
  • Refer to outside sources — Don’t act like a know-it-all; instead, quote a newspaper or magazine article, or an older actor or news commentator who offered advice.
  • Make the topic interesting — Watch an informative TV show together so you have facts, rather than opinions to discuss.
  • Tell anecdotes about others who have been, or almost were, scammed such as friends, family members, neighbors. Referring to your own experience being tempted or actually victimized can be particularly compelling. 
  • Point out how important it is to pass the word about scams to protect others

“I think we should tell Aunt Bessie and Uncle Hank about this horrible scheme” can shift your parent from a self-defensive posture to an “I’ve got to tell the others” warning role.

  • Remind your older relative to bring up new scams they hear about and plan to do the same. Go over the familiar cons, e.g. telephone calls late at night telling people their grandchild is in trouble and needs money, but also report new ones. The more your elderly relative is familiar with scams the better able they will be to avoid them.

Contact Our Experienced Elder Law Attorneys for Strong Legal Counsel & Sound Advice.