elderly scams

Protective Measures Against Scams for Dementia Patients

Introduction:

As dementia progresses, it alters more than an individual's memory—it impacts their ability to make decisions, recognize familiar faces, and understand complex concepts, including the difference between legitimate and fraudulent requests. Given these common behaviors of people with dementia[1], this group of people are increasingly at risk of falling prey to scams. These scams can come in many forms, such as phone calls, emails, or even door-to-door visits, posing significant risks to their financial stability and personal safety.

The challenge of caring for elderly parents[2] with dementia from scams cannot be underestimated. Caregivers and family members must be well-informed and proactive in their approaches to minimize risks and protect their loved ones from deceitful practices that exploit their cognitive impairments. To aid in this essential duty, it is crucial to leverage resources that are specifically designed to address the unique needs of those experiencing cognitive decline.

Common Types of Scams Targeting People with Dementia

Here are some common types of scams targeting older adults[3] that one should look out for:

1. Phishing Scams

Phishing scams frequently occur via email or through fraudulent websites that mimic legitimate ones. Scammers use these approaches to trick older adults into disclosing personal information such as bank account details or Social Security numbers. This can be especially easy if the individual has cognitive challenges and needs to recognize the deceitful nature of the request.

2. Telemarketing Scams

Telemarketing scams often involve a scammer pretending to be from a reputable company or a charity, asking for donations or personal information over the phone. Older people with dementia may struggle to recall if they have associations with these organizations, making them easy targets for persuasion.

3. Financial Exploitation

Financial exploitation[4] involves illegal or improper use of an elder's funds, property, or assets. Examples include cashing checks without authorization or misusing or stealing an elder’s money or belongings.

4. Charity Scams

In these scams, scammers request donations for fake charities. This often occurs after natural disasters or during the holiday seasons when people are more inclined to give.

5. Investment Scams

These can be some of the most devastating financially. Scammers target older adults with dementia by presenting overly complex or too-good-to-be-true investment opportunities that are difficult for the victim to evaluate due to their cognitive state.

How Scams Occur

Scams targeting seniors, especially those with varying dementia stages[5], are an increasingly alarming issue, exploiting the trust and generosity of older individuals to steal money and personal information. These scams can take various forms, making them difficult to recognize and avoid. Here are some common types of scams targeting seniors:

  • Online Scams: These include fraudulent emails, fake websites, and online advertisements designed to collect personal information or sell scam products. For example, a scammer might send an email that looks like it's from a bank, asking the senior to update their password. Once the senior enters their information, the scammer can access their account. Fake online shopping sites are also a common trick, where seniors pay for items that never arrive. Social media can also be a trap, with scammers pretending to be friends or family members needing money urgently.
  • Telephone Scams: These are often robocalls or live callers employing high-pressure tactics to convince older adults to provide personal information or send money. Scammers might call pretending to be from a government agency and claim the senior has unpaid taxes or needs to update their information. They may pressure the senior to pay immediately using gift cards, wire transfers, or credit cards. Another common telephone scam is the "grandparent scam," where the caller pretends to be a grandchild in trouble, asking for money urgently to get out of an urgent-sounding but fake situation.
  • In-Person Scams: These occur when scammers come to the door under the guise of business representatives or charity workers, looking to collect personal information or sell fraudulent services. Scammers might pose as workers from utility companies, offering fake services or repairs. They may charge high fees for work that is never done or isn’t actually needed. Other times, scammers might pretend to be charity workers collecting donations for a good cause. Once the senior gives them money, the scammer disappears. Some in-person scammers may even pretend to be friendly neighbors, gaining trust to steal property or financial information.

    Implementing Online Safety Measures For Seniors

    1. Password Management

    Strong passwords are your first line of defense against online scams. Encourage seniors to create unique passwords for each of their accounts. Make sure they use a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols—not names and birthdays. You may also consider using a reliable password manager to keep track of passwords.

    Always stress the importance of not sharing their passwords with anyone—especially via phone, email, or text messages.

    2. Secure Browsing Practices

    Seniors who browse the internet may come across various links and pages that may mislead them into giving up their sensitive information. It’s crucial to educate them on identifying phishing emails which often contain suspicious links, urgent language, or requests for personal information. It also helps to ensure only secure websites with "https" are used for online transactions.

    Secure connections are also important, so it’s best to advise against using public Wi-Fi for banking or shopping.

    3. Protecting Personal Information

    Protecting seniors' personal information is critical in reducing the risk of scams. It’s helpful to warn against sharing sensitive information like social security numbers or medical records online, as online scammers may obtain these by posing as legitimate entities like banks or government agencies. It’s also vital to teach them to recognize and ignore unsolicited requests for their personal information.

    4. Device Security

    To prevent hackers and scammers from bypassing security checks in the devices that seniors use, it’s crucial to keep software and antivirus programs up-to-date. Also, set up strong security settings and firewalls.

    5. Safe Online Transactions

    Encouraging safe online transactions is essential to protect seniors from scams and fraudulent activities.

    One of the most important practices is using secure payment methods, such as credit cards or reputable services like PayPal, which offer additional layers of protection and the ability to dispute unauthorized charges.

    Seniors should also be advised to check the legitimacy of online retailers before making a purchase. This can be done by reading reviews, looking at the website's contact information, and ensuring they are familiar with the retailer. Seniors should also be educated on recognizing and avoiding online shopping scams, such as websites offering products at prices that seem too good to be true or requiring payment through unconventional methods like gift cards or wire transfers.

    6. Social Media Safety

    Sometimes, scammers gather public information to steal identities from seniors. So, make sure to adjust privacy settings to limit who can see posts and personal details. Remind them to be cautious about accepting connection requests from unknown individuals, and teach them to recognize and report any suspicious or inappropriate behavior encountered online.

    Recognizing and Reporting Scams

    Recognizing scams starts with staying alert and being skeptical of unexpected contacts. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

    Signs of online scams include emails asking for personal information, links directing to unfamiliar websites, and poorly spelled messages. For phone scams, be wary of calls demanding urgent payments or pressure to act quickly. Legitimate organizations usually communicate through official letters and give ample time to respond. In-person scams can be spotted by asking for identification and verifying the person's claims through official channels.

    If the caregiver or senior suspects a scam, it's important to report it immediately. Contact local authorities, notify the bank if financial information was shared, and report the incident to organizations like the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Reporting scams not only helps protect the senior but also prevents others from becoming victims. Staying informed and cautious can go a long way in keeping seniors safe from these deceitful tactics.

    Legal and Financial Protections

    For individuals living with dementia, additional legal and financial protections should be put in place to help minimize risks. This can include setting up alerts for unusual bank transactions or using services designed to monitor and protect against identity theft.

    One effective way to protect seniors from financial scams is by setting up alerts for unusual bank transactions. Some banks offer services that send notifications via text or email if there are any suspicious activities in the senior's account. For example, the senior or caregiver may receive an alert immediately if there's a large withdrawal or an unfamiliar purchase. This allows them to take quick action to verify or stop the transactions. These alerts can be customized based on the senior's typical spending patterns, adding an extra layer of security.

    Identity theft protection services can also be very helpful in safeguarding seniors from scams. These services monitor the senior's personal information, such as social security numbers, credit card details, and bank accounts, for any signs of fraudulent activity. If any suspicious activity is detected, the service will notify the senior and provide steps to resolve the issue. Many of these services also offer insurance and professional help to recover stolen identity and funds, giving seniors peace of mind that they're protected.

    The Importance of Educating Caregivers and Families

    Educating caregivers and families about scams targeting seniors is crucial for several reasons. By educating their support networks, we can create a safer environment for seniors to enjoy their golden years without the constant threat of financial or emotional harm. Caregivers and family members are often the first line of defense, as they're more capable of spotting unusual activities or signs that the senior may not recognize as suspicious.

    Training caregivers and families to recognize common scam tactics can significantly reduce the incidence of successful scams. Understanding the proper steps to take when a scam is suspected, such as contacting local authorities or financial institutions, can also mitigate the potential damage.

    Another critical component is fostering open lines of communication between seniors and their support networks. When seniors feel comfortable discussing unusual interactions or financial decisions, caregivers are better positioned to provide guidance and intervene if necessary. This education can also empower families and caregivers to advocate for stronger protective measures on behalf of the seniors in their care, whether through setting up fraud alerts, using more secure communication methods, or being more vigilant about the senior's online activities.

    Safeguarding Our Seniors Against Scams

    Protecting our loved ones from elderly scams requires a concerted effort across multiple fronts. Diligently implementing multiple smart strategies helps guard against the financial and emotional turmoil associated with elderly scams, allowing our seniors to lead secure and independent lives.

    Navigating the digital world can be particularly challenging for those with cognitive impairments, such as dementia. Working together, families and caregivers can significantly reduce the dangers of scammers targeting this vulnerable population. By continually educating ourselves and the seniors in our care, we enhance their ability to spot and withstand deceptive tactics.

    For those seeking further guidance or support, Always Home Connected offers invaluable resources, tips, and expert advice tailored specifically to protect elderly individuals from scams. Here, you can find tools and information essential for maintaining our seniors' safety and well-being.

    Protect the seniors you love by visiting Always Home Connected today. Empower them with the knowledge and tools to avoid scams. Remember, awareness is our best defense in the ongoing battle against elderly scams.

    References:

    1. https://alwayshomeconnected.com/blogs/news/common-behaviours-of-dementia
    2. https://alwayshomeconnected.com/blogs/news/caring-for-elderly-parents
    3. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/safety/beware-scams-targeting-older-adults
    4. https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/blog/financial-scams-dementia-safety-advice
    5. https://alwayshomeconnected.com/blogs/news/dementia-stages

    Useful Resource Links

    1. https://www.atg.wa.gov/internet-safety-seniors
    2. https://csc.gov.im/media/23tmor55/online-safety-for-older-persons.pdf
    3. https://www.cisa.gov/sites/default/files/publications/Cybersecurity%2520and%2520Older%2520Americans.pdf
    4. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/safety/beware-scams-targeting-older-adults
    5. https://mediarelations.gwu.edu/why-older-adults-use-and-do-not-use-password-managers
    6. https://www.cisa.gov/secure-our-world/recognize-and-report-phishing
    7. https://consumer.ftc.gov/articles/how-recognize-and-avoid-phishing-scams
    8. https://www.consumerfinance.gov/consumer-tools/educator-tools/resources-for-older-adults/protecting-against-fraud/
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    Mary-Anne-Roberto

    About The Author

    Mary Anne Roberto, the co-founder of Always Home Connected is a dedicated CNA and a Certified Positive Approach To Care Consultant (Teepa Snow), specializing in dementia care.  Her goal is to create awareness about those experiencing cognitive changes and to provide caregivers with resources and tools that are necessary to help alleviate some of the challenges caregivers face on a day-to-day basis.