Grandparent Scams: How To Protect Older Adults From Being Exploited During the Holidays

Closeup side view of early 60's couple decorating a Christmas tree in their living room.
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The National Council on Aging recently reported that 92,731 older adults were victims of fraud and scams in 2021, leading to $1.7 billion in total losses. These scams may be especially prevalent during the holidays, when people spend more time shopping online, sharing financial information with various websites, and even rushing through stores.

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With less time to think about protecting their financial information — or thinking about whether a site is legit before making a purchase — the holiday season becomes a risky time for online shoppers.

Fortunately, there are ways to look out for yourself or protect the older adults in your life from falling victim to scams. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has introduced a list of resources to help, too.

Set Up Alerts To Identify Improper Use of Funds

The CFPB reports that illegal or improper use of older Americans’ money, property, or assets is the most common form of elder abuse, affecting up to 17% of people ages 65 and up. The best way to prevent fraud is to consistently monitor your accounts and set alerts for larger transactions.

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Thieves often try to process a small transaction first, so you may want to help your grandparent or older loved one set up text notifications every time there is a transaction involving one of their accounts. If anything seems suspicious, they should call their bank or credit card company immediately.

Work With Your Financial Institution To Spot Suspicious Activity

You can contact your bank or credit union to add one or more “trusted contacts” to your account. These people cannot access your money, but they might be a point-of-contact if you can’t be reached and the bank notices suspicious activity on your account.

You can add as many trusted contacts as you’d like and change them at any time, according to the CFPB. You may need to sign a printed document to authorize additions or changes. Ideally, your trusted contacts are not people who have control over your finances or ownership interests in your accounts. In other words, you should choose people with no stake over how you spend your money.

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Plan for Diminished Capacity and Illness

You should also discuss the idea of a power of attorney if you or your loved one becomes unable to manage their money themselves. This should be a person you trust to manage your money and make financial decisions for you if you are unable to do so.

You should still maintain a few trusted contacts who are unrelated to the person to whom you have given power of attorney over your accounts. If there is any suspicious activity on your account, the financial institution will reach out to your trusted contact first.

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Monitoring accounts, with the help of a trusted friend or family member, can go a long way toward holding onto your money and avoiding credit card fraud — and other types of financial abuse — this holiday season.

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About the Author

Dawn Allcot is a full-time freelance writer and content marketing specialist who geeks out about finance, e-commerce, technology, and real estate. Her lengthy list of publishing credits include Bankrate, Lending Tree, and Chase Bank. She is the founder and owner of GeekTravelGuide.net, a travel, technology, and entertainment website. She lives on Long Island, New York, with a veritable menagerie that includes 2 cats, a rambunctious kitten, and three lizards of varying sizes and personalities – plus her two kids and husband. Find her on Twitter, @DawnAllcot.
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