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The phone rings. A charming, fast-talking individual informs your elderly loved one that they’ve won a contest, or are seeking donations for a charity. Some even claim that a relative or loved one was in a serious accident, and they desperately need funds wired to a hospital. No matter the “flavor” of the scam, telephone-based scams have been on the rise for years, and many scammers are adept at specifically targeting senior citizens. At GoldLeaf, we are concerned about the risks that telephone scams pose to our elderly clients, which can extend beyond financial loss and include shame, depression and even social withdrawal. Fortunately, there are a number of guidelines you can follow to help educate and inform your elderly loved ones, which can greatly reduce their risk of falling victim to a telephone scammer.

Begin with An Open, Honest and Respectful Conversation

As with any important conversation you have with an elderly loved one, it’s important to be open, honest and respectful. Never talk down to your loved one or treat them as if they are unable to think or act independently, especially if they have already fallen victim to a scammer. Your goal should be to prevent your loved one from trusting unknown individuals over a telephone, now and in the future, and chastising or belittling them will be detrimental to this goal and may even cause them to shut you out.

Begin by explaining to your loved one that telephone scammers target many different demographics, and that listening to or even trusting a scammer does not mean that the victim is stupid or gullible. Telephone scammers are experienced manipulators who are trained to wear down their victims, and the best way to prevent a scammer from successfully manipulating a victim is through education and awareness.

If It’s Too Good to Be True, It Probably Is

Why do telephone scammers target elderly victims? Scammers often believe that elderly individuals are lonely, isolated, and wealthy or financially independent. Scammers also believe that elderly victims are more likely to trust a sales transaction conducted by phone, rather than in-person or over the Internet. Telephone scammers often manipulate a victim’s trust by posing as a Good Samaritan or trusted authority figure seeking to distribute a non-existent award or monetary settlement, collect donations for a fraudulent charity or help a loved one or family member in trouble overseas.

The adage, ‘If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,’ should apply to every unsolicited phone call that your elderly loved one receives. While you don’t want to impose a paranoid or isolationist mindset, your loved one should apply a healthy dose of skepticism to these calls, and they should be advised never to share personal financial information with anyone by phone. If they’re not sure whether or not a caller is legitimate, advise them to hang up immediately and seek out an alternative method of submitting a donation or making a purchase.

Address the Underlining Problem

As we previously mentioned, telephone-based and other scammers often attempt to exploit a victim’s loneliness, isolation and charitable impulses. The best way to ensure that your elderly loved one doesn’t fall victim to a scammer is to ensure that these underlining needs are addressed legitimately. Make sure that your loved one is socially and emotionally engaged, and that they have access to legitimate sources of assistance – for instance, if they need financial advice or guidance setting up a charitable trust, connect them with a financial adviser. If they need assistance with personal technology such as a computer or cell phone, set them up with a technician who can assist with such matters. Finally, make yourself available to answer questions and address concerns, providing support that will help alleviate the need to seek out support from other, more questionable sources.