Our parents are using their phones and tablets on a regular basis. Generally, this is great. It is not so great when they unwittingly fall victim to online scams. This issue is well covered by many internet sources. I mention scamming seniors because I see it in my Elder Law practice. Interestingly, there are a few common themes in the cases that I see.
In every one of my cases, the senior involved was suffering from some form of dementia and was in the early stage of the disease. In several cases, the family did not realize that their loved one had dementia before the trouble began. Typically, the senior is surfing the web or is texting. Then up pops the phishing lure. It looks legitimate. They click on it and pandora’s box opens. Inside, there is always a person with a convincing story that they are the victim of abuse or are in danger of some sort. They live overseas, often in Nigeria. Please help me they plead. Send money so that I can escape. Then the senior comes to the rescue.
In my cases, the senior would wire money to an account, send cashier’s checks, and in one case would buy expensive gift cards and mail them. Once the money began to flow, the scammer worked hard to establish an emotional relationship with the senior. In one instance, the money wasn’t coming fast enough so the scammer started to call the senior’s cell phone.
These scams are hard for families to discover. In my cases, there were thousands of dollars involved. One reason that a lot of time goes by before detection is that the senior is ashamed and doesn’t feel like they can ask for help. In two of my cases, it was a third party who reached out to a family member because something didn’t seem right. The senior sending gift cards was reported by the cashier of the local pharmacy where the senior always purchased the cards. In another case, the financial advisor finally called the client’s wife after her husband had nearly depleted his $900,000 IRA.
The lesson here is that adult children should remain vigilant for clues. Talk to your parents about what messages not to click on. Teach them how legitimate financial institutions communicate with customers. Get an agreement that they will not send anyone money where contact is initiated online.