If you're visiting your elderly mom or dad and see an excessive amount of junk mail, take note: Your parent might be a prime target for fraud.
"If your parents' mail is filled with sweepstakes notifications, free gift offers and more magazines than they could possibly read, chances are good they're on a 'sucker list,'" warns John Breyault, the director of the National Consumers League's fraud center. Once a senior takes the bait for one scam, thieves sell the person's name, address and telephone number, and fake mailings proliferate.
You should also be concerned if your elderly parent receives lots of telephone sales calls while you're visiting, or mentions getting 20 or more unsolicited phone calls per day. "Scammers know senior citizens answer their phone, and are reluctant to hang up on anyone," says Jean Mathisen, the director of AARP's Fraud Fighter Call Center. And as with junk mail, rip-off artists sell names and phone numbers of seniors who prove to be phone-receptive.
Although it's widely believed to be underreported, a 2009 study by the MetLife Mature Market Institute estimates that seniors lose approximately $2.6 billion per year as a result of financial abuse -- fraud, as well as theft by family members and acquaintances.
If you suspect your parents may be vulnerable to false offers -- even if they haven't been hooked yet -- take time to educate them, says Breyault. If Mom and Dad are Internet-savvy, direct them to the Federal Trade Commission's website where they can read up on the latest reported financial schemes. AARP also reports on senior fraud stories, as does the National Consumers League, or NCL.
You can also print out articles about the latest senior scams.