Protecting Your Parents

As Internet usage among older Americans increases, so does Internet fraud. Learn how to protect your parents and loved ones by taking an active role in their online financial transactions.

According to a new study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, which examines generational differences in online activity, the age group with the biggest increase in Internet use since 2005 is between the ages 70 and 75. This group’s Internet usage almost doubled, from 26% in 2005 to 45% in 2008, the report, “Generations Online in 2009,” found. But as usage among this population increases, so will the risks to new users.

“Even though the elderly are becoming more comfortable online, they did not grow up with it, and they do not rely on it every day for business like younger generations,” says Scott Stevenson, CEO and Founder of Eliminate ID Theft, an Atlanta-based identity theft protection agency. “So this means they’re less familiar with some of the dangers it presents.”

Bridging the Generation Gap

According to Suzanne McNeely, President and Founder of Senior Planning Services, an elder care management agency in Santa Barbara, CA, warning signs that your parents might need help managing their finances include unpaid bills and past due notices, letters from collection agencies or disconnection notices from utility companies, piles of unopened mail, unusual financial activity, and un-filed tax returns or letters from the IRS. In these situations, adult children can help their parents safeguard their finances while maintaining their independence, McNeely says. Doing so successfully, however, often begins with a potentially sensitive conversation.

“Our parents are in a very different place than we are,” McNeely says. “They’re trying to maintain control often in the face of the realization they might not always be able to.”

Adult children need to give parents the opportunity to control the conditions under which the discussion can occur, McNeely says. “You don’t want to force them into the conversation at the very moment you mention it,” she says. “So you need to be sensitive, realize that you may need to bring it up a couple times and expect some resistance.”

Tips for Getting Started

To get started, follow these steps from Jackie Quinn, Professional Fiduciary and Geriatric Care Manager at Senior Planning Services:

Get organized – Consolidate key information, such as statements, insurance documents, trusts or wills, power of attorney, property titles and passwords.

Automate banking, bill payments and deposits – Next, sit down with your parents and set up online banking, bill pay and automatic deposits for any regular income they may receive. “Most people have the same five or six bills every month,” Quinn says. “So it’s pretty simple to help parents set up automatic payment systems for their routine bills.”

Be their partner – Rather than taking over, arrange for a joint bank account with your parents and create the password together to enable access for both parties. Doing so, Quinn says, allows parents to still feel in control. Another option is to have a duplicate statement sent to you in the mail.

Keep Your Guard Up

According to the Better Business Bureau, 30% of all fraud victims are over the age of 65, so adult children can never be too cautious when it comes to protecting their parents. “Thieves today are more sophisticated,” Stevenson says. “They can get the information and have the personal data to easily target almost anyone.” Although there are countless schemes online and offline, protecting your parents’ information can be as simple as knowing where to look and what to look for, McNeely says. “Education and open lines of communication are crucial to safeguarding what they’ve worked their whole lives to achieve,” she says.

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