Here’s a disturbing statistic: One out of every five Americans over age 65 has been victimized by a financial scheme, according to the Investor Protection Trust, a nonprofit organization devoted to investor education.
If your parents are in this age group, should you be concerned? And can you help them avoid being “scammed” so that they maintain control over their finances?
The answer to the first question is yes, you should be concerned. Of course, as the numbers above show, most aging Americans are not being swindled, which suggests they can take of themselves quite well. Still, it’s no secret that many fraud schemes target seniors because of their concentrated wealth and, in many cases, trusting nature. As much as you’d like to think otherwise, your parents could be susceptible to rip-off artists.
Fortunately, you can indeed take steps to help prevent your parents from being fleeced. Here are a few suggestions:
• Observe their behavior. If you live close to your parents, listen closely to any new friends, investment deals or sweepstakes they mention during your normal interactions. If you’re in a different city, try to stay abreast of your parents’ behavior by communicating with them frequently and by checking in with other family members or friends who can see your parents.
• Urge them to watch out for suspicious emails. You’ve probably seen them — emails offering to “reward” you with huge amounts of money if you will only contact such-and-such from a distant country and then put up a “small” sum to initiate some ill-defined transaction. You probably send these to your spam filter without a moment’s thought — and you should urge your parents to do the same. Remind them that any offer that sounds too good to be true is, without question, neither good nor true.
• Encourage them to further their financial education. Law enforcement agencies, health care professionals and reputable financial services providers all offer personal financial management programs designed for seniors. Look for these types of programs in your area, encourage your parents to attend — and even consider going with them.
• Become familiar with their financial situation. Having a serious discussion with your parents about their finances may not be easy — but it’s important. The more you know about their investments, retirement accounts and estate plans, the better prepared you’ll be to respond helpfully if they mention an action they’re considering that doesn’t sound appropriate to you.
• Suggest professional help. If your parents are already working with a qualified financial professional, they’re probably less likely to be victimized by fraud than if they were managing their finances on their own. And it’s a good idea for you to know their financial adviser, and for him or her to know you, as you may well be involved in your parents’ legacy planning. However, if your parents don’t already have a financial adviser, you may want to recommend one to them — particularly if it’s someone you already know and trust.
Your parents may not need help avoiding financial scams. However, just in case, be prepared to act. Your intervention could help preserve your parent’s financial independence.
Joe Faulk is a financial adviser in Crestview.