For a millennial who grew up speaking the language of the Internet, having watched it evolve from the roughly hewn websites of the nineties to the seductive, cinematic pages that we enjoy today, it’s very easy to recognize an email or website that feels “legitimate” or “normal.” But for older generations who didn’t grow up surfing the web, this might not be as intuitive, and could lead to harm. In particular, older adults with Alzheimer’s and dementia could be especially at risk for online financial abuse and email scams.
As Internet use among older generations becomes more prevalent, caregivers need to be vigilant about monitoring memory health and staying attuned to the warning signs of online financial abuse. This is increasingly possible with the help of several new technological initiatives that educate older adults and their caregivers about Alzheimer’s and dementia and raise awareness about elder abuse online. By staying vigilant, we can assist our older generation in safely surfing the web.
Signs That an Email Might Be Suspect
So, how serious is the risk of being scammed? Well, the estimated cost of elder financial abuse tallies in the billions of dollars every year, and many of these scams are happening through email. If your loved one has complicating conditions like memory loss or dementia, it’s especially important to establish and maintain guidelines for Internet use together. There’s no reason email can’t be a safe and useful tool for someone with Alzheimer’s or memory loss, as long as you and your loved one approach the inbox with a critical eye and watch out for some of these types of scams:
- Medicare “refunds” – These emails might offer a refund check of a few hundred dollars to cover a supposed gap in your coverage charges. They’ll ask for your personal information and Medicare card number, and use it for identity theft.
- Offers for “free” medical equipment or supplies – These offers often include a contract for the “free” goods—with hidden charges in the fine print.
- Mortgage swindles – These scams might offer to provide you with a Deed of Reconveyance for several hundred dollars, and imply that the document is legally required. In reality, homeowners should have received such a document when they paid off their mortgage, and, if not, they’re easily acquired at low-cost from your county public records office.
Next time you’re going through emails together, keep an eye out for any money-requesting, giving, or service-providing emails along these lines, and help them sort the “junk” from the important emails. Depending on the severity of their memory loss, you may want to make a list of warning signs and tape it to their desk or computer station.
Complications: Alzheimer’s and Memory Loss
If your loved one’s memory is starting to slip, they’re going to be much less likely to make the savvy choices they normally would, so it’s important for caregivers to be cognizant of the risk of serious memory loss in conjunction with financial exploitation. These apps for caregivers can help track your loved one’s memory and share caregiving information for Alzheimer’s patients:
- Balance is an Alzheimer’s caregiving app that facilitates tracking and sharing information about your loved one’s daily progress and medications.
- Alzheimer’s and Other Dementias Daily Companion is an app that offers expert tips on dealing with different memory loss scenarios, as well as emotional support for caregivers and additional caregiver training materials.
- Dementia Caregiver Solutions provides a written handbook for understanding dementia and behaviors associated with Alzheimer’s.
As a caregiver, these apps can help you detect dementia and Alzheimer’s early on to prevent the financial exploitation of someone you love.
If you suspect abuse, it can be hard to know where to turn—it’s shocking to find out that scammers are taking advantage of the person you love. To help caregivers deal with the aftermath of a financial scam, IOA teamed up with developers at UC Irvine to design a unique app that helps caregivers deal with the aftermath of a financial scam. Our app also helps caregivers identify the warning signs of financial abuse early on, so that hopefully you can minimize any financial damage. Law students from St. Paul, Minnesota’s William Mitchell College of Law have also developed an online database of guidelines to help caregivers recognize and prevent elder abuse online, as well as resources on how to report abuse to the proper authorities.
Early Awareness Is the Best Defense
As a caregiver, the best protection you can provide for your loved one is to stay mindful of their memory health and maintain an open dialogue with them about their online activity. When you can recognize Alzheimer’s and dementia in the early stages, you can make a plan together to manage their online activity and stay safe from scammers. At IOA, we’re passionate about protecting our older generation through our elder abuse prevention program, and our volunteers are happy to assist caregivers who are looking for guidance on how to open up a dialogue with their loved one about identifying and avoiding financial exploitation on the Internet. Older adults can find great emotional comfort from staying connected with their friends and family through the web, and they shouldn’t have to give that up to feel safe and financially secure. These new caregiving apps can make it possible for you and your loved one to ensure that they have the best of both worlds.
Don’t hesitate to reach out for counseling and support from the team at IOA. We offer caregiver support throughout the Bay Area and beyond, and we can help you find the resources you need to keep your loved one safe on the Internet.