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Having the elder fraud talk


As people age, their ability to spot fraud and exploitation may suffer. Since money management can be a sensitive topic for discussion, approaching the conversation about preventing fraud with care and sensitivity is ideal. This article offers tips for discussing elder fraud with the older people in your life. 

Be open and respectful

As people age, their ability to spot fraud and exploitation may suffer. Approach the conversation with an open mind and with an understanding of the sensitive nature of the topic. Some people do not feel comfortable disclosing details about their finances, so it may be an uphill task to prevent them from becoming defensive. Ask questions and engage, and be sure to take breaks and step back if things get uncomfortable. 

Don’t blame

Fraud can happen to anyone, not just older people. If the fraud has already occurred, there’s no point in laying blame. Doing so might alienate them—making them more vulnerable to being exploited, as one of the major factors in elder fraud is isolation. No matter what the state of their finances, the best approach is to work together with the person without judgment. 

Be patient

Dealing with finances can be frustrating, and it can be even more challenging to work with another person’s financial habits. When you add to that the confusion and fear that many older people experience when they think they might be taken advantage of financially, it may lead to a potentially frustrating conversation. 

It’s an important one, though, so be sure to take your time, reviewing and explaining any topics that might be unclear.

Bring in reinforcements

Close family members or friends, including peers in the same age group, can help drive the point home about the dangers of elder fraud. Peers can share stories about close calls or even scams that they fell for. Younger family members can offer support and explain how technology can and can’t be used to extract money from unsuspecting victims. Trusted financial advisors, lawyers and bankers can demonstrate tools for protecting against fraud, like account locks and monitoring. 

Present real-life stories

Sharing articles and videos about elder fraud from trusted sources is a great way to reinforce your concerns without sounding too “preachy.” Television broadcasts that expose common scams—and how easy they are to fall for—air frequently and are a great talking point to broach the conversation about elder fraud. Stories from their peers who have lost tens of thousands of dollars can help drive home the dangers of scams. 

Ask questions

The most fruitful conversations about elder fraud come as a result of careful preparation as well as empathetic listening. What follows are a few questions to help with awareness of potential financial abuse.

  • Have any of your friends lost money to a scam or to a greedy family member? What are the signs that they might have missed?
  • Is anyone in your life taking a sudden interest in “helping” you with your finances?
  • Have you had any unusual phone calls lately, from supposed creditors, or even from a number that came up as a business you know?
  • What would you like to know about how technology can be used to defraud anyone?
  • Has anyone recently asked you for information about your bank accounts, credit cards, social security, or tax information?
  • Has anyone called or emailed you recently to tell you that you need to change a password or that an account has been compromised?

Discuss what to do if fraud is suspected

Encourage the person to practice a “refusal script” for phone calls. Include phrases like “I don’t do business over the phone” or “I have to contact my lawyer before I can give away any information.” Most scammers will move on to the next call if they encounter strong resistance.

Have a plan in place in case the worst happens. Make sure that the older person can rely on you to help out without judgement and with a clear head. Create a to-do list that includes who to call and which accounts to check on. Don’t panic, but be firm on the need to speak out if the older person realizes that they may have fallen for a scam.

Related information

Overview of elder fraud

Preventing elder fraud

What to do if elder fraud occurs

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