Glenn Helminiak, head shot New December 2006, SPJ Business columnist HelminiakNew
It's unfortunate, but true: The elderly population might be the most vulnerable group in our society. In fact, in an effort to call attention to the problems of physical, emotional and financial abuse of the elderly, the United Nations has designated June 15 as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. If you have older parents, or even grandparents, can you do to anything to help prevent them from being victimized, especially with regard to their finances?
Actually, there's a lot you can do. First and foremost, you need to maintain good communications and a trusting relationship with your older family members. As long as these elements are present, you should feel free to make the following suggestions:
Increase awareness - When it comes to financial fraud and scams, many seniors think: "It can't happen to me." But the facts suggest otherwise: Some 20 percent of Americans over the age of 65 admit to having been victimized by financial swindles, according to a survey by the non-profit Investor Protection Trust. Let your loved ones know that no one in their age group is immune to financial predators.
Guard private information - Ask your parents or grandparents to not divulge personal information over the phone. In fact, urge them to get caller ID, if they don't have it already, and tell them that if they don't recognize the number, don't answer. Legitimate callers are more likely to leave messages than scammers.
Don't send money. Exhort your parents or grandparents to never wire money to a random account - no exceptions.
Ignore "limited-time offers" - Your loved ones should ignore callers, mailers or emails that demand they act immediately. These offers are often overblown at best and might be fraudulent at worst.
Don't trust "no risk" offers - Financial offers that sound too good to be true are likely just that - untrue. Legitimate investments carry both potential risks and rewards.
Avoid "debt-settlement" claims - If your older loved ones have debt problems, they might be especially susceptible to offers that claim to "clear up" all their debts. But there's no quick fix to this problem and any caller who claims otherwise is likely being deceitful. Encourage your parents or grandparents to discuss their debt situation with an honest, professional debt counselor or a financial adviser.
Here's one more thing you can do to help your parents or grandparents avoid financial fraud: If they don't already work with a trusted, qualified financial professional, introduce them to one. If your parents have a relationship with such a professional, they will be less likely to listen to any questionable, unsolicited offers than if they were trying to manage their finances on their own.
You're in a good position to know how much, or how little, help your elderly loved ones might need in terms of avoiding financial abuse. So be willing to do whatever it takes to help them enjoy their retirement years comfortably.