As we age, changes in our brain make us more susceptible to exploitation.

ImpactofFraudHallie Swift is a poet with a keen eye for art, and she recently blogged about what happened to her mom. One of the comments in her story discussed how the changes in our brains as we age make us more susceptible to fraud and exploitation.

In working with older adults to manage their day-to-day finances, the onslaught of scams and ploys to get their money is never ending. For my oldest clients, we usually start by going through the mail together. The amount of non-profits that use language to convey a prior commitment to give saddens me as a former non-profit marketing professional. These are used even by the top-notch charities. They know that the “greatest generation” meets their commitments and language stating “Thanks for your pledge of $20.00” is very successful at generating donations.

If you are seeing a lot more donations, your loved one might be a victim of this tactic. I know that it worked on my parents. Their habit of giving once a year turned into checks every month.

However, the important thing to know is that the changes in our aging brains may make us all victims of some of the more serious and predatory scams that result in over 36 Billion dollars a year as reported by the National Council on Aging. I think it is valuable for all of us to know that it might be a natural consequence of getting older.

Beyond the concern to the finances is the emotional toll this takes on older adults. From additional health issues to trouble in a marriage, support around managing the checkbook might be a welcome relief to someone in your life.

For more on the full report, you can visit: Neural and behavioral bases of age differences in perceptions of trust.  In summary:

“Older adults are disproportionately vulnerable to fraud, and federal agencies have speculated that excessive trust explains their greater vulnerability.

Two studies, one behavioral and one using neuroimaging methodology, identified age differences in trust and their neural underpinnings. Older and younger adults rated faces high in trust cues similarly, but older adults perceived faces with cues to
untrustworthiness to be significantly more trustworthy and approachable than younger adults. This age-related pattern was mirrored in neural activation to cues of trustworthiness. Whereas younger adults showed greater anterior insula activation to untrustworthy versus trustworthy faces, older adults showed muted activation of the anterior insula to untrustworthy faces. The insula has been shown to support interoceptive awareness that forms the basis of “gut feelings,” which represent expected risk and predict risk-avoidant behavior. Thus, a diminished “gut” response to cues
of untrustworthiness may partially underlie older adults’ vulnerability to fraud.”

Aging ain’t for sissies. I hope this helps you consider how you might help a loved one as well as consider how to protect yourself in the years to come. Considered. 

My deceased mom’s accounts were listed on my credit report.

creditreportexpIn the wake of the Equifax breach … which joins a long line of security breaks … I suggest you take a look at your own credit report now.

I often talk about how to help mom and dad and manage through being the adult family caregiver, and often one of the best things you can do is to lead by example.

You can get a free copy from the three major bureaus once a year, and it’s worth doing. When I recently ran my own reports, I found that my mom was listed along with some of her credit history. My mom passed away almost two years ago.

To get your report, visit: 

You should not have to pay ANYTHING, so if you are being prompted to pay, you are on the wrong site. If you are just doing a check up, I would request all three. When I did this for myself recently, on the first one from Equifax, everything appeared to be in order. When I got to Experian, it provided more details and showed some accounts from my mom, who is now deceased. It also had several misspellings and listed former work addresses as former residences. It took around 45 minutes to get through the customer service system to the person that could help me. I found the same errors on the TransUnion report. They were very helpful in getting the issues corrected.

The good news is that corrections get shared with the other credit bureaus, and Experian is going to send me a note when the updates have been made and shared with the other bureaus.

In the wake of the breach, you might also consider putting a lock on your credit and recommending that to mom or dad as well. It won’t prevent the exploitation that is rampant and costs seniors $17 Billion a year, but at least it’s a start to having a positive discussion with your loved one. Hoped. 


Could your loved ones be victims of fraud?


Every year, at least $36 Billion is reportedly taken from older Americans, according to the National Council on Aging. The largest segment is “Exploitation” — when businesses, individuals, or charities use pressure tactics or misleading language to lead seniors into financial mistakes. My parents were prayed upon, and the source of the fraud was surprising.

When my parents still lived in their home, they signed two agreements for the same work — one was for a few hundred, and the second was for $5,200. Thankfully, my mom sensed something was wrong and called my sister. I lived near mom and dad so could stop by and found the two contracts for the same work — one that was horrifically over-priced. We were able to cancel the outrageous contract, but I should have also called the police, Adult Protective Services, and the Better Business Bureau. We were so stunned at the time that 1) they could victims of horrible people; 2) thankful we caught it in time that I never circled back to work with the systems in place that could help protect others from this same crime.

The Washington Post carried a story that detailed the depth of the crimes against three local seniors. They were robbed of more than $100,000 by what our local police call “woodchucks”.  They start by offering to trim trees, and if they do return after you have given them a deposit, they usually find a host of other issues to repair. Most of the work is either not needed (roof tile or chimney repair that you can’t see), is done poorly, or never completed.

Holding that checkbook is for many, the last item in helping them feel control over their world. When I started to notice that my parents were writing weekly checks to a variety of charities I had never heard of, my antennae went up. If you read the letters, they are written to make the recipient believe they have already promised a donation. It can be hard to get a handle on this since it feels good to give. However, sometimes it can get out of control.

As a daily money manager, I helped one client who was giving over $2,000 a month to a host of charities she doesn’t even believe in because of the letters and calls coming into her home. He son asked her to keep the donations to under $30, which she did. However, she was writing checks and giving her credit card out nearly 100 times every month.

When we started working on bill pay together, I was able to show her how much money she was giving away and it surprised her. When we started to go through the mail and discussed the charities, she realized she didn’t know what they did or even believe in the mission. After taking these steps, it was easy for her to realize that she needed to reconsider her giving and we came up with a good solution for her.

If you are worried about this with your loved one, start slow. Work in tandem to get a handle on the charitable giving — tax season is a great time to do this. Create a list of the key charities of interest and suggest that you review all of the others at the end of the year.

Money is always a difficult topic in families. If you don’t live near your loved one, or do and think it might be better for a third-party to help, I suggest you consider finding a local daily money manager to help you.