My world turned upside down when the roles reversed in my family and I became the parent to my parents. It was a gift, being able to help them, but it was also a shock. Both were in their 80s, still had most of their marbles and were living in their own home but were failing physically. I was horrified to discover how vulnerable they were. Mom had spent hundreds of dollars on junk jewelry bought through the mail and my dad was engaging in conversations with telephone solicitors! My parents lived hundreds of miles away and with every visit home I felt more uneasy and it was tougher to leave them. I felt an increasing need to protect them, to keep them from making mistakes they wouldn’t have made just a short while back. Here are some of the hard lessons I learned:
- The Greatest Generation is also a trusting generation. Most folks who came of age in the 1930s and 1940s were raised in close religious, familial or neighborhood communities that supported each other through tough times. It was a brand of shame to ask for help or go on “public assistance.” Children were sent out in the world at an early age to help their families and door to door salesmen were common. Today, when someone comes knocking on the door selling a product or service, the plea for help resonates with that generation’s experience and core beliefs.
- Because many seniors are homebound, they are prime targets for unscrupulous vendors. Some of the most successful scammers are home improvement companies. They will often work without a contract, ask for full payment up front, start work but never finish, charge exorbitant prices for cheap materials or push financing options with high interest rates-always hidden in the fine print. Because these folks are usually fly by night operators, victims have little or no chance of getting their money back.
- Older adults raised during the depression learned good saving habits and many have a sizeable nest egg. This generation learned to squirrel away a large percentage of their paycheck; saving was a virtue. They avoided borrowing like the plague and when borrowing was necessary, the ethic was to pay loans off quickly. Even if the goal of saving throughout their lives was to insure a comfortable retirement, many seniors are still living modestly, protecting their legacy for their heirs. Bank accounts, a mortgage free home, credit cards are all delectable treats for scammers and identity thieves.
- Seniors are often reluctant to report crimes. If they recognize they’ve been taken, seniors may blame themselves or not tell anyone out of guilt, shame or the fear of the consequences of their children finding out. This presents a real challenge for family members who want to protect their elders. The mere act of a child suggesting they get involved with their parents’ finances pokes at the older adults’ pride. Who would willingly cede control over what they’ve worked so hard to earn or admit they can’t handle it anymore?
- Seniors don’t always make good witnesses because of poor memory. The assumption that seniors are frail, have poor memories or couldn’t withstand the rigors of a trial prevents many cases from being filed. These grim realities embolden those who lie in wait for vulnerable older adults.
My next blog will focus on ways that you can help protect the seniors in your life from scams and identity theft.