How to talk to older people in your life about scams

If you’re having a conversation about scams with your family members, it’s important to highlight the rushing aspect of scam practices. —

Daniel Goldstein’s 86-year-old mum got an email that looked like it was from her bank.

She was alarmed because she hadn’t spent the money it mentioned, so she called the help number on the email.

The person on the other end of the line asked for her bank account information and made her believe she would get her money back. Instead, she lost US$600 (RM2,800) to a scammer.

Last year, consumers of all ages were scammed out of US$8.8bil (RM41.35bil). And older adults lost the most money compared to other age groups, according to the US Federal Trade Commission.

While everyone wants to protect their parents and grandparents from scammers, sometimes these conversations can be complicated to navigate.

“We encourage people to think in multigenerational approaches. Everyone is getting scammed, it’s just a different way that scammers go after you,” said Genevieve Waterman from the National Council on Aging.

From having a lot of empathy to knowing how to report a scam, experts shared their recommendations for talking about scams.

One of the best ways to raise awareness about scams is to talk to each other about them.

To keep your older family members safe, Waterman recommends that families talk about scams more often in their day-to-day lives.

“I love the idea of sitting around the table and talking about (scams) and making them more common,” Waterman said.

Goldstein said his mum knows how to use technology fairly well, and they’ve had many conversations about email scams.

However, she had never encountered the type of scam for which she was targeted. Because she felt a sense of urgency, she didn’t contact her son before calling the scammer. Goldstein believes that could have prevented her from losing money.

It’s a common practice for scammers to make victims feel like they need to act right away, which makes them more vulnerable to falling for a story that might not seem plausible if they weren’t under pressure.

If you’re having a conversation about scams with your family members, it’s important to highlight the rushing aspect of scam practices.

Also, as you are navigating complicated conversations, it’s better to take an informative approach rather than an authoritative tone.

Because your parents or grandparents have a lot of expertise in other life topics, if you approach a conversation by imposing your ideas, it might not have the best effect.

When Kathy Stokes, director of fraud prevention at AARP, has conversations with her mum about scams, she approaches the conversation by saying that she heard about a new type of scam and asks questions such as “What do you think about this?” instead of using language like “Hey mum, there’s this scam, don’t fall for it.”

Waterman also recommends that you have conversations as a family, including with younger members of your family, and make sure you make it clear that scams target everyone, regardless of age.

“It’s about staying vigilant together as a family unit, not to challenge that older adult but just to explain that (scams) are becoming more sophisticated,” Waterman said.

If your family member has already lost money to a scam, Stokes recommends that you approach the conversation with a lot of empathy.

“We tend to blame the victim,” Stokes said. “When you are faced with another adult in your life who has experienced a scam loss, understand that it’s a crime.”

Stokes encourages people to think about scammers as organised groups with many resources, rather than a random person calling from their mum’s basement.

Stokes says that people should think of these crimes at the same level as others and therefore have empathy for the victims.

A few days after the scam took place, Goldstein’s mum told him about it.

“She was really unhappy, and I’m like, ‘Mum, why didn’t you call me?’” said Goldstein, who felt frustrated by the situation.

Part of Goldstein’s frustration came from the fact that he had a system with his mum where she would call him if she ever felt like something was wrong.

However, he also felt bad for his mum because she was embarrassed that she was a victim.

While being online is now part of most people’s lives, older adults have a harder time adapting to some aspects of the Internet, which can make them more vulnerable, Waterman said.

“Older adults have been thrown into the virtual world during Covid-19 without any digital literacy training or navigation in general,” Waterman said. – AP

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