Scammers Are Targeting My Dad
"How do I protect my overly-kind father from scam calls? He still has a landline and I’d say he receives solicitations daily. I suspect that some of them are scams, or overly-aggressive sales calls.
My father is the nicest person on the planet. He’s also not a skeptic, and believes everyone. He’s wonderful to be around, but as he ages I worry that people will take advantage of this. One reason I worry is I notice he’ll donate to anyone that asks. That’s fine, but I notice that he donates more now than in the past and to organizations that he has no relationship with.
Dad does get a little defensive when I ask him about giving, and frankly I feel awkward even talking about it. On the other hand, I feel that it’s my responsibility to support and protect him if others try to take advantage.
Dad’s 88 years old and living independently. He pays his bills and manages his own accounts. What’s the best way to go about this?"
Protecting our seniors from scams and unsavory sales calls should be a national call to action. Every child should be concerned about this as their parents enter the golden years. The challenge we face is figuring out how to approach the situation, and how to set up parameters that can shield the elderly from being taken advantage of.
Most people want to maintain their independence. They want to pay their own bills, manage investments, and have total control of their money. I certainly feel this way, and have had control of my money since I was a teenager. Letting go of that control would be extremely difficult for me, as it is for every other adult.
These days we are all at risk of being scammed. The elderly are just more vulnerable than, say, a 50 year old. Many adults are in a relationship where money is shared and spent based on agreed criteria. For instance, day-to-day utility bills, rent, groceries, and ongoing must-pay bills are generally not discussed. Purchases over a certain amount are generally discussed with a partner or spouse. For the elderly, that partner may no longer be living, which decreases by 50% the opportunity for rational thinking. Add an aging brain, and the recipe for disaster is obvious and underscores why the elderly are targets.
I recommend you share this column with your father and together, craft a plan. My mother did it with her children and we have reasonable confidence that she is protected. Here are the steps to setting up a bubble to protect your father:
- Discuss the types of scams that are circulating at this time.
- Set up unchanging parameters for communication. If your father has a landline, perhaps he never actually answers the telephone. Rather, he can let all calls go to an answering machine. Then he can screen his voicemails at his own pace, and call familiar folks back.
- If your father uses a cell phone, agree that he won’t answer calls from anyone whose name does not appear as one of his trusted contacts already in his phone. Scams and sales calls are hitting cell phones now, so even his cell is not safe. He needs to be comfortable with voicemail. On most cell phones, you can silence calls from unknown callers.
- Have Dad select an advisor – a trusted person to consult with when it comes to spending money, like a child, grandchild, or other person with whom he is comfortable.
- Agree on how much he can spend without consulting his chosen advisor. Let’s say that any spend under $500 is fair game. Anything over $500 should be mentioned to the advisor before the final donation or purchase. That limits his risk to $500. It could be $1,000, $5,000, or $30,000--whatever he feels comfortable losing, should the request end up a scam.
- All purchases over a certain dollar amount shouldn’t be made the same day. Your father should wait at least 24 hours before making a large donation and purchase, in addition to discussing it with his advisor.
Managing money is a lifelong problem for some. If your father has struggled with money management throughout his life, it would be a good idea to hand over the management of significant sums to his advisor.
These discussions are not easy, but they are very important. They can draw you closer and create a safety net for your father. We all need this support as we age.
I wish you well on your financial journey together.
Family Caregiving Advice Column
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