Paperwork And Financial Protections for Aging Parents
If your aging parent lives alone, they may be used to leaving important paperwork out, or even leaving money out in the open. Sadly, many unscrupulous people are aware that older adults tend to leave financial or personal paperwork out in the open and use it to their advantage. Unfortunately, financial fraud is very common and isn’t limited to strangers.
As your aging parent begins to need more support in the home – whether it be a cleaning person, paid caregiver or neighbor – they may need to be more cognizant of what they have out and available for visitors to see. While the idea of a trusted family friend or relative stealing your aging parent’s identity or money is horrifying, it can happen. The best way to prevent financial fraud or identity theft is to remove the temptation and stay on top of personal information.
Protecting An Aging Person’s Privacy
I am a very trusting person. I always have been, even though my former roommate stole my social security number (and used it) in college and I have had my debit card skimmed twice in my adult life. It drives my husband insane since he is my opposite and has everything on lock down. I think there’s a happy balance between being too trusting and being paranoid that someone is out to steal from you.
If your aging parent falls in the “too trusting” camp, there are some simple things he or she can do to limit exposure to financial fraud or identity theft.
Put away financial documents and money.
*This post contains affiliate links, which means that I may receive a small commission if you make a purchase at no additional cost to you. Your purchase helps me continue providing caregiving information for free.
This may seem like common sense, but you’d be surprised by how many people just leave private financial papers out in their home. They feel like it is their home so who is going to steal it? Well, anyone who comes into their home can see it and it may be too big a temptation to some.
As an example, I had a client who used to leave her bank statements on the dining room table for weeks. Her caregiver used to go to lunch with her weekly (paid for by the client). The caregiver once told me that she ordered lunch and dinner to go because the client could afford it. While it doesn’t add up to a ton of money over time, you can see how a caregiver could take advantage of someone’s financial information.
I also had a client who kept $2,000 cash in her bedroom closet at all times. She started noticing that her stash kept getting low. It seemed that her cleaning person had found the stash and regularly took money from the stash. Don’t make it tempting for people entering your aging parents’ home to steal from them. Either find a good, uncommon hiding spot or consider a safe, which would be really hard for someone to take without being noticed.
Don’t throw away personal information, shred it.
I know it is a pain, but tossing paperwork that has personal information (social security number, bank or credit card numbers, etc.) can be a risky endeavor. There are unscrupulous people who go through people’s trash searching for personal information. If they get enough information, they can use it to apply for credit cards or create personal checks using your aging parent’s account number.
If shredding paperwork is too time-consuming or difficult, there are stamps that can be used to block out personal information. They can also store the papers somewhere hidden and take them to free community shred events (you’ll need to look for free events in their community) or pay for shredding at an office supply store like Office Depot or Staples. They usually charge per pound, so it isn’t worth the expense to take a few sheets at a time.
Keep an eye on bank accounts.
I had a client who never ever looked at her bank statement. She just assumed her bank wouldn’t make a mistake. Mistakes aside, she wasn’t even considering the possibility of identity theft.
As I mentioned above, I have been the victim of identity theft twice. Both times, I still had my card in my wallet. If I didn’t keep an eye on my accounts regularly, I wouldn’t have caught them until way too much money was stolen. Typically, thieves will charge small amounts to test that the card is good. Once they’ve made a few small purchases, they’ll go big. The same goes for regular credit checks. A friend of mine had no idea someone had stolen her identity until she was declined for a corporate credit card because of unpaid credit card debt. It seems, someone had stolen her identity and opened up credit cards in an entirely different state.
With all of the data breaches that have happened recently, it’s a good idea to keep a close eye on your credit rating, as well as watching your bank statements.
Keep Valuables Out Of Site
I’m not saying that your parent shouldn’t have any nice things out on display, but it is a good idea to keep valuables away from outside sight lines. What does that mean? Well, maybe don’t leave jewelry or watches on a table next to the front door. Or, if your parent has an expensive gadget or knick knack, don’t have it visible from outside the home.
In recent years, there have been home invasion robbers who case homes they plan to rob by pretending to be utility workers or even door to door sales people. Sometimes, while one person is distracting a person at the front door, their accomplice is casing the home from the back or side yards. If your parent has a lot of valuables that are easy to see from a window or door frame, they may become the next house on the hit list.
Watch out for scammers.
Unfortunately, there are some terrible people who prey on older adults. What makes it worse is that many times, the victim is embarrassed and doesn’t report the crime. Talk to your aging parent about the types of scams out there and how they can protect themselves.
You are likely aware of phone scams, but there are also people who will prey on an older person in public. For example, I had a 94 year old client who was taken advantage of at a grocery store. A woman claimed that she hit her car door when she got out of her car and caused $500 worth of damage. She claimed that her husband owned a body shop so that’s how she knew how much damage was done, but in reality $500 is the maximum cash amount most people can take from an ATM. My client was embarrassed that she didn’t realize she hit the car so hard so she was happy to hand over $500 to fix the car. Scammed!
Tell your aging parent to be wary of someone who falls on their property or claims your parent hit their car or injured them in any way. They should always ask for contact information and let the person know that they will have a family member contact them to resolve the situation. If the issue is legit, the victim should have no problem dealing with a family member or insurance company. Anyone who insists on cash on the spot is likely not legit.
It is important to discuss these financial and identity theft scams with your parents. Many people get embarrassed that they were taken advantage of so they don’t report the incident to the police or family members. Making a few small tweaks can help your aging parent protect him/her self.