published Saturday, October 8th, 2011

Phillips: Ways to help elderly avoid scam artists

by Ellen Phillips

Q: My parents are getting along in years and, to be honest, their minds don’t work as well as they used to. What types of scams are specific to the elderly? — James Junior

A: Dear Mr. Junior: Scams target everyone, but seniors whose minds aren’t quite as sharp as they used to be are more likely to be targeted. A few really stand out and are those that your parents should be most likely to remember.

• Never agree to house work, exterior or interior, with anyone who comes door to door. Stories abound of scam artists who bilk the elderly out of hundreds if not thousands of dollars to repair their driveway or fix their roof, among others. In fact, to be absolutely safe, impress upon your folks not to open the door to anyone with whom they’re not familiar.

• Never give out personal information over the phone. Again, the elderly (or uninformed) often unwittingly give their bank account number, Social Security numbers and credit card numbers to unsavory individuals who pretend to be associated with those programs/companies. Legitimate companies won’t ask; they already know.

Along this same line, if mom or pop received an email asking for personal information, this is also a scam. In a nutshell, never offer this info to anyone they don’t know and, usually, to anyone they do know.

• Watch out for people who’ve become “new” friends with your family member. All too often, criminals befriend an older senior to gain access to personal information or to property, such as jewelry or credit cards.

• Buy your parents a shredder and be sure they know how to use it. All financial information and old statements should be destroyed via this method. Don’t forget all those credit card offers, too.

• Ask a trusted neighbor or friend to keep an eye on your folks if you’re unable to do so because of distance. Not only can this person report back any suspected shenanigans or potential trouble, but also short visits several times weekly from a true pal or even an acquaintance can make your senior less likely to befriend an otherwise fishy character.

about Ellen Phillips...

Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears on Saturdays in the Business section of the paper. An expanded version is at under Local Business.

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