Helping older adults and caregivers avoid scams, fraud

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QUINCY — June, recognized as Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, is a good time for older adults and their loved ones to take extra safeguards against scams and fraud.

Older adults, especially those living with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, can be more susceptible to scams. Scam awareness is a complex mental task, and it’s harder for those who have a condition that impacts memory, thinking and behavior.

A growing body of research suggests that changes in financial decision-making and difficulty identifying scams may be very early signs of Alzheimer’s. Loneliness and isolation are also risk factors for older adults, who may be more willing to trust and befriend scam artists seeking their money or personal information.

All of this means that older adults often need extra support to protect themselves from fraud.

If you are an older adult or a caregiver, one of the best things you can do is know the signs of common scams targeting older adults. BBB recommends you make a plan for what to do if you or a loved one receive a call or message that you think might be a scam.

Tips for older adults:

  • If something feels off, tell someone you trust. Ask a family member or friend who can help you tell if a message is safe and legitimate.
  • Don’t give out personal information. Never share private information like your social security number or Medicaid ID with a stranger over the phone or online.
  • Pay and donate to familiar sources. Stick to charities and stores you know and trust. Be cautious about any unsolicited requests to donate to a new charity.
  • Watch out for phone fraud. Scammers often impersonate government agents or bank employees. Remember that caller IDs can be faked and that government agents won’t make unsolicited calls. When in doubt, hang up and call the official source to verify who you were speaking with.
  • Don’t click links in emails or text messages, especially if you don’t know the sender. Scammers can send phishing messages that look like they come from an official source, but actually contain malicious links.
  • Beware of urgent requests from strangers. Scammers might try to pressure you into an impulse decision or offer too-good-to-be-true deals. If someone wants you to spend money or do something immediately, take a step back.

Tips for caregivers:

  • Watch for warning signs. It may be time to talk with your loved one if they are receiving frequent junk or spam calls, making unfamiliar payments, acting secretive about phone calls or messages, or experiencing sudden financial trouble.
  • Talk with your loved one. Help them be as prepared as possible. Discuss what common scams look like and encourage them to ignore suspicious messages or phone calls. Make sure they know you are there to help if something doesn’t seem right. They can tell you if they receive a strange call or message.
  • Reduce solicitations. Register all unsolicited phone numbers on the “Do Not Call” registry and all unsolicited mail on the “Do Not Mail” registry. You can also reduce unwanted mail by registering with the Direct Marketing Association (DMA). Remove a person’s name from the credit bureau’s mailing list by calling the Consumer Credit and Reporting Industry at (888-567-8688).
  • Screen calls. Make sure your loved one has a working caller ID and answering machine. Advise them not to answer the phone for people they don’t know. If someone is a frequent target for spam calls, you may need to help them change their phone number.
  • Discuss financial security. In some cases, it may be helpful to have a calm discussion with your loved one about helping them secure their accounts and monitor their finances to prevent and identify scams.

Learn more about Alzheimer’s and dementia from Alzheimer’s Association. BBB has more resources for older adults. If you or a loved one has been the victim of a scam that targets older adults, report it to BBB Scam Tracker℠.

Don O’Brien is the regional director for the Quincy Better Business Bureau. Contact him at dobrien@quincybbb.org or 217-209-3972.

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