How to protect your elderly parents from online scams and fraud

How can I protect my elderly parent from online scams?

Beth takes on a tricky new money question—and offers expert advice on how to resolve it and how to talk it over in constructive ways.


The situation

“Recently, my septuagenarian dad, who has always prided himself on being with it tech-wise, fell victim to an online scam. It wasn’t a lot of money (just a couple hundred bucks), but it happened right after my sister and I had warned him specifically not to give anyone any money online. Naturally, we are worried about what the scammers might have accessed on his hard drive—anything from his social security number to bank account info—and what we can do to protect him financially. He has a decent nest egg, but not so good that a major hit wouldn’t be felt. What can we do, and how can we do it, while being sensitive to his feelings? He’s embarrassed enough as it is.”

—Ray D., New Orleans

The solution

First off, I’d like to say how sorry I am to hear about your dad being scammed online. I’m relieved to know his financial loss was not more serious—and that he has children like you who care.

Sadly, your dad is not alone—there are a lot of “Nigerian Princes” at work out there. According to a recent survey, roughly 2 out of 3 adults age 70 and older now fall prey to online scammers. Newer scams include bogus inquiries from Medicare “sales representatives” (of which there are none) or even contact from imposters claiming to be from Apple or Microsoft, selling you virus protection for your infected  computer (a service neither tech giant provides). You have every right to worry.

The good news here is that you passed the first test! Kudos to you for showing empathy toward your dad by recognizing his embarrassment at being taken advantage of. (Getting duped stings at any age.) That level of understanding and care will help you safeguard him in the future, because your (and his) best first line of defense is dialogue. Keep the conversation flowing about online predators and protections.

Roughly 2 out of 3 adults age 70 and older now fall prey to online scammers.

Of course, not all parents are so receptive to their kids being the ones dispensing the advice. If you meet some resistance to talking about online safety, relaying a personal anecdote of your own where you (nearly) got taken in by a scam can be a useful icebreaker. Or maybe it’s a cautionary tale you’ve heard about the subject. Sharing something you’re interested in will likely pique his own interest, and give you something tangible to discuss.

A few other general tips for you and your dad to consider:

  • Nudge him. It’s important to check credit card and bank accounts early and often. Offer to help monitor your dad’s statements, and set up push notifications to both of your phones from his bank and credit card issuers for larger purchases, $100 or more.
  • Remember: stranger danger! Remind your dad (again) never to give out his personal information online to anyone he doesn’t know. This includes everything from his Social Security number to his bank account and credit card numbers. If you have to put it on a Post-It note and stick it to his computer, do it. (He will eventually get annoyed and remove it, but your point will have been made.)
  • Don’t get hooked! Be sure your dad is wary of getting lured in by phishing scammers. (He hopefully learned this lesson already, as hard as it may have been.) This means never clicking on any links in a message or social media post from someone he doesn’t know or has not personally reached out to.
  • Safety first. If possible, make sure your dad is not storing his credit card or banking information online. And change passwords for all online accounts at least once a year, and immediately if you or he suspect he’s been targeted by another scammer.
  • Use resources. If your dad is a trusted member of AARP, have him check out their Fraud Watch Network, which offers up fun and useful information on dealing with online scammers, and even a toll-free number to assist in matters of fraud (877-908-3360).

Of course, if your parent is having cognitive issues, this may be time when you want to seek the counsel of a lawyer, and, if need be, get power of attorney over your parent’s financial assets, so you can monitor their spending and look for any peculiar charges or transactions. There’s a version of this called “springing power of attorney” that will only put you in charge in instances in which your parent can no longer look after himself. This can aid you in safeguarding your parent’s finances without stepping on his toes.

If all else fails, you can always pop a lasagna in the oven and cue up this YouTube video on internet safety from “Professor Garfield.” As the internet has taught us over and over again, sometimes life’s hard truths and important lessons are best delivered by an adorable cat.


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