We’ve all heard the phrase: “Hindsight is 20/20.” As I understand it, the author means that after the fact, it’s easy to see things more clearly than we did before—as if our vision were 20/20. In the crazy year that was 2020, I think we can all agree that hindsight would have been great. If only we knew then what we know now.
We learned so many things in 2020, but one of my greatest takeaways was born from assisting many of my older clients and their caregivers. Unfortunately, in the last year I’ve witnessed many financial scams targeting older generations, resulting in their caregivers wishing for the 20/20 hindsight that would have prevented them.
One client was spending several thousands of dollars a month to “win” a prize or increase her chances of winning by buying miscellaneous figurines, dolls, etc. When she passed away, her children discovered she had spent over $20,000 and had a closet full of unopened boxes full of these items.
Another client received a fraudulent email saying she had won the lottery. The criminals had her buy thousands of dollars of money orders and gift cards to “secure her winnings.” She spent tens of thousands of dollars before she realized it was a scam.
However, my saddest story concerns two of my clients in their nineties who were living independently at the start of 2020. The husband became increasingly ill, so a part-time caregiver and housekeeper began to help daily. Neither the husband nor wife could drive and were dependent on the caregiver for transportation, groceries and prescriptions. After the husband passed away, the wife was left grieving. My client and her caregiver called the office one day saying they needed extra money because the caregiver felt that 24/7 care was needed, and she would arrange it. The charge for this would be $20 an hour for 24 hours a day—or $14,400 per month! The caregiver wanted me to send money directly to her. At this point, I reached out to both of my client’s out-of-state children, shared my concerns, and with the bank’s help, they began investigating.
We discovered the caregiver was taking the client to the ATM on a weekly basis and withdrawing $600 each trip. The caregiver charged more than $400 per week at Publix. Charges on the debit card for Amazon purchases were frequent. In the end, the client was embarrassed and didn’t want to press charges. The children aren’t in town and needed someone to help since they weren’t there, and their mother was comfortable with the caregiver. I wish this story had a happy ending, but it does not.
In the social isolation, illness, and fear that the COVID-19 pandemic brought, issues facing our older clients became very clear. If you have an older parent or loved one, please don’t wait until you are wishing for 20/20 hindsight to safeguard against scenarios like these. There are tactics that can be used now to prevent this from happening to someone you love.
Here are a few tips for protecting your older loved ones against financial scams.
- Set a budget with caregivers for food, prescriptions and other weekly expenses, and let them know you will review them.
- Request online access to credit card accounts, and review charges on a weekly (if not daily) basis.
- Request online access or duplicate statements for banking accounts and review activity, especially ATM withdrawals.
- Review phone records, especially 900 numbers.
- Make sure you have passwords to online shopping accounts, such as Amazon, and review the purchases regularly.
- Hire a business to provide caregiving services rather than an individual.
- Make sure valuables are locked away—especially coins and jewelry.
- Set up Informed Delivery with the USPS to see what mail is being delivered. You can review what checks are arriving, see what bills are due and monitor any unexpected credit card statements.
- Know anyone they may have shared logins/personal information with.
Conversations about these issues can be difficult, but hopefully stories like this will shed light on why they are important. Having these conversations with your older loved ones may prevent everyone from wishing they had hindsight just a little earlier.