Protect Your Parents From Scams

Follow these steps to lower the chances that your mom or dad will become victims.

Kim Lankford in her Ask Kim column today writes about how to protect parents from elder investment fraud. Unfortunately, getting pressured into inappropriate investments isn’t the only way seniors are taken advantage of financially.

For example, my mom -- who has Alzheimer’s disease -- almost became the victim of a con artist who wanted her to wire him money to claim a “prize” she allegedly won (see Scams, Scams Everywhere). After my mom almost was scammed, I got her a phone with caller ID and told her to let calls from numbers she didn’t recognize go to voicemail. So far, this has helped my mom avoid telephone pitches from scammers.

Clearly, relying on caller ID alone won’t protect my mom. There are several other steps that I have taken and that financial planners and eldercare specialists recommend to protect older adults, especially those with dementia, from being taken advantage of by con artists, high-pressure sales people and even legitimate groups.

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Put your parents on do-not-call lists. Most telemarketers will stop calling once a number has been on the National Do Not Call Registry for 31 days. You can register home and cell phone numbers for free at or by calling 888-382-1222.

Monitor their mail. Tell your parents that you’ve heard about scams targeting seniors and that you want to help protect them, says Linda Fodrini-Johnson, president of the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers. If you live in the same town, ask them to collect their mail during the week so that you can go through it and write checks together. Otherwise, ask a trusted friend or your parents’ eldercare provider (see The Long-Distance Caregiver) to help weed out questionable mail and requests for money.

Limit charitable giving. “A mailbox stuffed with charitable donation requests is a red flag” that your parents are susceptible to pleas for money and likely have given a lot already, says Greg Merlino, a certified financial planner and president of Ameriway Financial Services in Voorhees, N.J. However, you don’t want to stop your parents’ charitable donations entirely if that is something that has been important to them throughout their lives. Fodrini-Johnson suggests that you help your parents develop a giving plan that allows them to make donations but only to one or two organizations that matter most to them.

Monitor their accounts. Look at bank and credit-card statements with your parents and ask about questionable payments. If you already have key information about their accounts and have power of attorney, become a joint account holder so you can receive bank statements or set up online banking (if your parents haven" target="_blank"> to make sure they aren’t victims of identity theft.

Limit access to cash and credit. This is the toughest step to take and is geared more to people whose parents have dementia and need a lot of help managing their finances. You can start by setting up automatic payments for regular bills to reduce the number of checks that need to be written. If you have access to your parent’s checking account, limit the amount of money in it by regularly transferring funds to a savings or money-market account. Give your parents a secured credit card, which allows them to make a deposit that becomes their credit limit, and take away the other cards.

In cases where your parents really are being taken advantage of, consider giving them a cash allowance, says Carlo Panaccione, a certified financial planner and president of Navigation Group in Redwood Shores, Calif. “A lot of people will avoid it because they are afraid of conflict with their parents,” Panccione says. “What’s the alternative? Let them go until they have nothing left?” To make it easier, don’t call it an allowance -- call it a spending plan. Tell your parents you’re giving them a certain amount each week or month to spend as they please and that you’ll take care of the rest (through automatic bill pay, etc.), Panaccione says. And be sure to let them know that you’re doing this because you love them, not because you’re trying to control them.

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Cameron Huddleston
Former Online Editor,

Award-winning journalist, speaker, family finance expert, and author of Mom and Dad, We Need to Talk.

Cameron Huddleston wrote the daily "Kip Tips" column for She joined Kiplinger in 2001 after graduating from American University with an MA in economic journalism.