Financial exploitation costs older Americans billions of dollars per year, according to several sources, including the National Council on Aging. If you have older parents, could they be vulnerable to financial scams and rip-off artists?

And, if so, what can you do to help protect them? Unfortunately, it is possible for anyone to become a victim. For a variety of reasons, older adults may be easier targets than younger people. And that is why, when interacting with your parents, you should look for these warning signs:

•Suspicious new relationships – If your parent mentions something about a new friend, a romantic partner or some type of caregiver who seems to have taken a great interest in your parent's financial situation, you may have reason to be suspicious. Do not be afraid to ask some questions.

•Multiple checks written to same person or entity – If you think your parents may be making questionable financial moves, ask to see their checkbook. If you see several checks written to an unfamiliar person or business, you might be viewing evidence of a financial scam. If so, you will want to intercede before your parents get victimized again.

•Changing power of attorney or beneficiaries – If your parents suddenly decide to name someone new as their "agent" (the person responsible for carrying out a power of attorney), you may need to investigate. And the same is true if your parents change the beneficiary designation on their investment accounts or insurance policies.

•Unusual urgency to make an investment – If you learn that your parents want to make some type of investment "immediately," you should be concerned. No reputable financial professional would ever pressure them – or anyone else – to "act now" on an investment.

Apart from watching out for the above signs of trouble, what else can you do to help guard your parents from fraudsters?

For starters, urge your parents – repeatedly, if necessary – to never give out personal information over the phone or online. Scammers have gotten quite clever at impersonating legitimate businesses or organizations – for example, unless you are looking closely at the email, you might think the logo of a bank or another com-

pany is being accurately depicted. Again, though, reputable businesses typically don't send messages that are demanding, threatening or otherwise employing some type of extreme language.

Also, stress to your parents that they should never wire money to a random account. Plus, remind them about the truth of "no risk" offers: Any financial offer that sounds too good to be true is just that – untrue. Every legitimate investment carries both risks and rewards. Here's another suggestion: Older adults who have debt problems may be especially vulnerable to offers that claim to "clear up" all their debts. But there's no quick fix to this problem, and any caller who claims otherwise is likely being deceitful.

Encourage your parents to discuss their debt situation with an honest, professional debt counselor or a financial advisor. Finally, if your parents don't already work with a trusted, qualified financial professional, introduce them to one. Your parents worked hard all their lives. Do what you can to help them enjoy their "golden years" in dignity.

Edward Jones wrote this article for use by your local Edward Jones Financial Advisor.