Barbara E. FriesnerWe want our parents to use computers and the internet. The good news is that more and more of them are. The bad news is that an alarming number of them are also falling prey to identity thieves and internet scammers.

I\’m sure you\’ve seen them – emails from banks, credit card companies, and stores that say that there is some problem with your account. They may tell you there has been fraudulent or suspicious activity and you have to confirm your information. Some will threaten to suspend or close your account or report you to the credit bureau if you do not respond. Then they tell all you have to do is click on a link in the email to correct the problem.

According to Antiphishing.org, “\’phishing\’ (also spelled \’phishing\’) is a term denoting ‘spoofed’ emails and fraudulent websites designed to fool recipients into divulging personal financial data such as credit card numbers, account usernames and passwords, social security numbers, etc. By hijacking the trusted brands of well-known banks, online retailers and credit card companies, phishers are able to convince up to 5% of recipients to respond to them.” Unfortunately, a growing percentage of those are Seniors.

When family members try to talk with their parents about it, they often hear things like:

  • “The email has the company logo so it must be official.”
  • “It\’s not a sales pitch – they weren\’t trying to sell me anything.”
  • “They were just being \’nice\’ letting me know about a problem.”
  • “They seem to know what\’s going on with my account so it must be OK.”
  • “I went to the website they gave me and it looked \’right\’.”

At that point, the two most common mistakes family members make are

  1. Making their parents feel embarrassed for having been scammed and,
  2. Making the conversation about money and therefore, creating resistance to any advice or help.

You don\’t want to scare your elderly parent away from the internet and using the many wonderful resources it provides. You do, however, want to make them a wise surfer and help them protect themselves, their identities, and their finances. Therefore, the conversation should not be about mistakes they may have made or what they do with their money, but rather how to protect themselves.

As with other potentially difficult conversations, the earlier you talk, the easier it will be, the better the chance you will be able to prevent a problem from happening, and the more likely they will tell you if there is a problem. Also, the more facts you can provide, the less emotional the conversation will be.

Here are some good things to tell them:

  • The bad guys are really good at what they do so anyone can be caught in these scams.
  • No legitimate company will ask for your bank account information, credit card numbers, Social Security number, passwords, personal identification numbers (PIN), or date of birth via email. Therefore, NEVER give that information to anyone who asks for this information by email.
  • NEVER respond to an e-mail that looks like it came from your bank or any of your credit card issuers no matter how official it looks. Also, don\’t call the telephone number in the email. Instead use the number on your bank or credit card statement. Read them the email and follow their instructions. Most of the time they will tell you it\’s a scam and some will ask that you forward the email to an email address they give you so they can track it.
  • If you think there might be a legitimate issue, NEVER reply through the link provided in the email. Instead type in the URL web address that you know is right. You can find the web address on an old statement or by Googling it. Once you get to the legitimate website, ask Customer Service if they are aware of a problem on your account. I personally find it\’s easier and faster to call the number provided on the statement. I did recently and it took less than five minutes.Because the interaction is done in the privacy of their own home, family members often don\’t find out about a problem until the damage is done. If your aging loved one has already been scammed, they probably already feel terrible – perhaps even panicky. Suggest they let you help them fix it by going over their statements with them to see if you can spot any problems.If you see anything questionable, contact their banks and credit card companies immediately. These companies and institutions are familiar with these scams and they know what to do. However, if your parent refuses your help, provide them with web addresses and phone numbers and get their promise that they will follow up immediately.
  • In addition, encourage them to check their bank statements and credit card bills every month for charges they can\’t explain and if they find anything, to contact the police immediately and file a report. Remind them to be sure to get a copy of the report to send to the companies involved and to be sure to keep a copy for their own records. They will also need to contact all three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) and tell them that they want a fraud alert placed on their TransUnion.

Finally, if you are concerned with your aging parent\’s on-line buying, stock trading, or erratic spending and want help resolving this issue before it becomes a crisis, please call me to set up a complimentary get-acquainted conversation to see how I can help. This is not something you can ignore!

Barbara E. Friesner — Eldercare
Generational Coach

Barbara Friesner is the country\’s leading Generational Coach and an expert on issues affecting Seniors and their families. She has been interviewed for Advising Boomers magazine, featured on NY1 TV\’s Focus on Seniors and Coping with Caregiving on wsRadio. She has also been quoted in newspapers and magazines across the country and her articles have been published in the CAPSule, the Children of Aging Parent\’s newsletter.

© Copyright AgeWiseLiving™ 2010 You can find information about how to talk with your aging loved ones in “The Ultimate Caregiver’s Success System by going to www.AgeWiseLiving.com. While there, sign up for Barbara’s free weekly newsletter. You can also contact Barbara by calling toll-free (877) AGE-WISE. Barbara E. Friesner is the country’s leading Generational Coach and expert on issues affecting seniors and their families. She is an adjunct professor at Cornell University.