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Every week, join Sydney Waters as she helps you navigate life as a smart consumer. You'll cover everything in avoiding the latest scams, including phishing emails, medical equipment fraud, understanding layaway, hiring a reputable tax preparer, and even digital spring cleaning. Add to your toolbox and flip through your Consumer Handbook Thursdays during NPR’s Morning Edition at 6:42 a.m. and 8:42 a.m., only on KRCU.

Consumer Handbook: Spotting Scams Targeting Older Adults

Physical therapist talking to senior man sitting on a fitness ball at home
FG Trade/Getty Images
Physical therapist talking to senior man sitting on a fitness ball at home

Older adults, especially those living with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, can be more susceptible to scams. Scam awareness is a complex mental task, and it’s harder for those who have a condition that impacts memory, thinking and behavior.

A growing body of research suggests that changes in financial decision-making and difficulty identifying scams may be very early signs of Alzheimer’s. Loneliness and isolation are also risk factors for older adults, who may be more willing to trust and befriend scam artists seeking their money or personal information.

All of this means that older adults often need extra support to protect themselves from fraud.

If you are an older adult or a caregiver, one of the best things you can do is know the signs of common scams targeting older adults. BBB recommends you make a plan for what to do if you or a loved one receive a call or message that you think might be a scam.

Tips for caregivers:

Watch for warning signs. It may be time to talk with your loved one if they are receiving frequent junk or spam calls, making unfamiliar payments, acting secretive about phone calls or messages, or experiencing sudden financial trouble.

Talk with your loved one. Help them be as prepared as possible – discuss what common scams look like and encourage them to ignore suspicious messages or phone calls. Make sure they know that you are there to help if something doesn’t seem right, and that they can tell you if they receive a strange call or message.

Reduce solicitations. Register all unsolicited phone numbers on the “Do Not Call” registry and all unsolicited mail on the “Do Not Mail” registry. You can also reduce unwanted mail by registering with the Direct Marketing Association (DMA). Remove a person’s name from the credit bureau’s mailing list by calling the Consumer Credit and Reporting Industry at (1.888.567.8688).

Discuss financial security. In some cases, it may be helpful to have a calm discussion with your loved one about helping them secure their accounts and monitor their finances to prevent identify scams.

Sydney Waters is the new Regional Director of Better Business Bureau in Cape Girardeau and responsible for outreach efforts in Southern Illinois and Eastern and Southwest Missouri.