In the wake of the recession, fear and desperation are making seniors more vulnerable to financial predators than ever.
Sixty-one percent of senior citizens say they worry about running out of money before they die more than they fear death itself, the AARP reports. This fear can cloud judgments about financial opportunities and make thinking critically about their consequences difficult.
The turmoil brought on by the recession and sustained low interest rates have pushed many seniors to seek investment alternatives to provide them the income they had planned to live on during retirement. As a result, seniors now make up 30 percent of fraud victims.
So how can you help your parents avoid becoming victims of financial sharks?
The first step is communication: Call and listen to them regularly. One way scam artists exploit seniors is by preying on their isolation and loneliness.
When you talk to your parents, be alert for signs of a sales pitch that might lead to a feeding frenzy:
Let me buy you lunch or dinner. These sales events are common, and a meal changes the feel from a sales pitch to a social gathering.
I can eliminate your fears. Fears may be eliminated with simple solutions, but sound investing is not achieved with a single, simple solution.
I want to be your friend. Unscrupulous sales people often seek to become a trusted friend for their own benefit.
I can get you a big return on your investment. Promises of big returns without disclosing the associated risks should always be a red flag.
In most cases, sharks will employ more than one technique to make the sale. If you hear your parents talking about any of these scenarios, ask questions and investigate. It may be nothing, or it may be time for you to get involved.
Some seniors are more vulnerable than others. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority Inc. provides a checklist that may signal your parents are at risk of becoming victims of fraud. Do they:
Live alone or lack a close network of friends?
Fail to check to see if financial professionals are licensed, registered and in good standing?
Invest in low-priced stocks; start up companies or partnerships?
Seek returns that are substantially higher than market conditions?
Consider investing based on the recommendations of friends, family members or co-workers?
Accept telemarketing calls?
Attend investment events that include a free meal?
Listen to salespeople who call on the phone?
Read junk mail?
Suffer from an illness or injury that limits their physical or mental abilities?
If you answered yes to four or more of these questions, your parents may be at a moderate to high risk of becoming victims of a financial predator.
For more information about protecting your parents retirement money, visit www.saveandinvest.org and look for the link Avoid Investment Fraud.
Remember: Helping means listening, asking questions and taking action. You and your parents will be glad you did.
Durango resident and personal finance coach Matt Kelly owns Momentum: Personal Finance. www.PersonalFinanceCoaching.com.