Scram, Scammers!

Family Health, Featured Article, Healthy Living
on November 29, 2011

QUESTION: My 70-year-old mother is very naïve about people. I have read recently about the increase in scam artists who target the elderly. I am fearful my mother could fall prey to one of these crooks. She is very open about her finances and shares all of her investment information with others. I don’t want to scold my mother, but I want her to understand that in today’s world, privacy is very important. Any thoughts on how to educate her without seeming bossy?—Jerry                                                                                                                                               

DEAR JERRY:You are very smart to want to protect her assets and privacy. A recent study shows financial exploitation of the elderly by commercial predators has reached $2.9 billion annually. And the bilking is expected to rise considerably with the baby boomers adding to the mix. Unfortunately, we must be wary of not only commercial predators, but family members and caregivers, as well. Having your mother’s trust is the first order of the day. Does she allow you to view her personal finances and other documents? If not, approach this process slowly. Giving up this information could cause your mother to feel she is losing her independence and her ability to make her own decisions. Start the conversation sharing your concerns and be sure she understands this discussion is in her best interest. She may need to have some time to adjust. When she seems open, show her some of the statistics about elderly abuse. Find easy-to- understand facts and figures at the National Center on Elder Abuse: Administration on Aging website at As her trust in your judgment grows, focus on a number of specific areas where high levels of elder abuse occur. Does she do her banking online? If so, check her account regularly–every day, if possible. Watch for the following signs of abuse: unusually large withdrawals, checks written to “cash,” checks signed by your mother but filled out by another, large loans against home equity, or expensive gifts to a caregiver.  For additional help, call your local district attorney’s office. They usually have an Elder & Adult Financial Abuse unit. For a list of scams, go to the National Association of Bunco Investigators at You can also connect with your local Bar Association or the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys at  Once you and your mother are on the same page protecting her assets, request a Power of Attorney to legally access her accounts so you can police them on a regular basis. If you are unable to make headway with your mother on this crucial issue, perhaps you can partner with a sibling, a close friend or a financial advisor. Together you can present a program to help your mother adjust and accept help. Don’t give up. This is too important of an issue to put on the back burner.