Defending the Nest Egg
And what I want to say is that our seniors out there are financially vulnerable - and increasingly so all the time - due to longevity issues, shall we say, and to the many elder-abusive people who want to cash in on those golden years.
Some common examples: An excited young woman with a great phone voice calls to tell us we've won a fabulous international prize worth a fortune, and all we have to do to receive it is to let them charge [pick an amount] to our credit or debit card for taxes, shipping and handling. Or the phone rings during the night and a desperate voice claiming to be a young niece, even a grandchild we haven't heard from lately, says she's in trouble somewhere, can't reach anyone else, and needs money [pick an amount] wired to her from our account in order to post bail or to catch the next plane home. Or we receive an incomprehensible invoice from a medical lab somewhere that claims we owe [pick an amount] for a test of some kind that we can't really recall but that must have been ordered during our last exam - my wife and I actually received this one ourselves recently.
Now, before you say anyone would see right through these scams, so what's the problem?, keep in mind that seniors are often alone and don't have anyone to turn to at that critical moment for a second opinion. Plus, the calls are so slick and the prize is so wonderful; or the person really does sound sort of like their desperate youngster, and besides, there's no time to check further; or it would take a CPA to figure out those invoices anyhow, right? Then, once the hook is set, it's only a moment before the credit card is maxed out, the debit balance is drained, and the invoice is paid - and all largely without any recourse whatsoever. A client's father kept getting calls from one of the prize shysters, and after responding to multiple pleas for just a little more to cover this or that additional charge, he ended up sending them his entire nest egg - and getting nothing back! It was a monumental tragedy and it happened right under the family's nose.
What's the answer? We need to sit down for a heart-to-heart with our seniors and make them promise that when - not if - those captivating requests come in - even for seemingly harmless amounts - they'll just quietly hang up without engaging in the ultimately disastrous dialogue; and they won't pay an invoice/fee/obligation they aren't clear about without first running it by a trusted family member/friend/advisor. If they can't make that commitment convincingly, or if they've actually been burned already, they may need more drastic assistance.
For starters, they may need to have someone opening at least their non-personal mail, or sitting with them as they write their monthly checks. As for the calls, maybe they need to have someone else holding their credit cards or checkbook, so the ability to hand out devastating information isn't right there at their fingertips. One critical document that our seniors can provide us with to help prevent these dire consequences is a durable power of attorney. In fact, without that authority we can't get any credit card, bank account or medical records information that would flush out whether there's a real problem in the works - or help them try to fix it.
If you want to see how these dilemmas play out in visual terms, watch the movie "Nebraska" that's up for an Oscar this year. Bruce Dern plays the senior in that one, and while much of it is hilarious, it will show you what a challenge it can be to help in these situations. Best wishes!