It Can Happen to Any of Us

How to talk with your parents about scam safety.

“Because that’s where the money is.”

Willie Sutton is famous for his simple explanation about why he liked robbing banks. 

Today, Willie would probably be scamming older adults. Because that’s where the money is — and you don’t need a gun or a getaway car to steal a fortune. 

Scams against older adults are crimes of opportunity that exploit vulnerability and technology to siphon your parent’s savings.

Worse, if your parent is scammed, there’s a chance they’ll end up on a list as an easy mark for other scammers, including those promising to help recover their lost money.

And if your parent is too embarrassed to tell anyone — which is common — by the time you do find out, the damage can be life-changing. 

The extent of the monetary loss can devastate your parent’s financial security and independence. And the shame many older scam victims carry can dramatically affect their emotional and mental health.

That’s why talking with your parent about scam awareness and prevention is essential. Here are some expert tips on how to do it.

Share Your Experience

Let mom know what you are doing to reduce your own exposure and risk. 

“Talking about scams can be one of the easier conversations, because we’re all targeted,” says Cameron Huddleston, director of education at financial monitoring service Carefull, and author of Mom and Dad, We Need to Talk. “Use your own experiences… to put it out there in a way that isn’t condescending.”

Use the News

Articles and news stories make good conversation starters.

Like this story about Rich Brune, a 75-year-old Navy vet who got hooked by an online tech support scam that cost him close to $800,000 — his life savings — over five months. 

An official scam alert also works, writes identity theft and cybersecurity consultant Carrie Kerskie:

“It adds credibility, especially when the alert comes from a federal agency. When a warning only comes from you, they may think that you’re being dramatic or that it’s highly unlikely they’d ever be targeted by such a scheme.”

For example, here’s the FBI alert for “The Phantom Hacker” scam, the same sophisticated gas-lighting fraud that robbed Brune of his retirement and peace of mind.

Keep Talking

Staying scam-savvy is an ongoing conversation because scammers always find new ways to take advantage of the latest fears, trends, and technology. 

Start by learning about common scams and warning signs, and how to reduce risk.

Stay up-to-date with the FTC’s list of the latest scams (and how to avoid, report, and recover from them) here.

If Your Parent Gets Scammed

Blame the criminal — not your parent.

Older adults are less likely to report fraud. One reason is shame. Another is fear of further loss of independence and control. 

If mom or dad gets scammed, they’re already blaming themselves. The last thing they want is more shame and blame from you.

What they need is support, says Amy Nofzigar, Director of Fraud Victim Support at AARP.

“Victims feel every emotion possible. They go through stages of grief, anger, denial, frustration… And these are all normal feelings. 

But what we tell victims is you were a victim of a crime. This does not mean that you are not smart, that you’re not educated. You were emotionally vulnerable at that time when the criminal attacked you. That can happen to any of us.”

“Lead the conversation with kindness and empathy, not anger or belittlement,” says Nofzigar

“You can say, ‘I’m sorry this happened to you. Together we’ll figure out next steps. There is no problem that we can’t solve or recover from.'”

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