Take these steps to help stop fraudsters from ripping off your parents as they age.

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Financial exploitation of older adults is emerging as one of the most prevalent forms of elder abuse, according to “Elder Financial Exploitation,” a report from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Why are older adults an appealing target for financial abuse?

Cognitive decline is a key factor that makes older adults more vulnerable. But other factors are at play as well, such as the good chance that older people have more wealth or savings. Yet the elderly poor have an even greater chance of being targeted for financial exploitation, according to the SEC report.

Worried about your ageing parent becoming a target of financial abuse?

1. Be an active part of your parent’s life

One of the best things you can do to prevent someone financially exploiting a parent is to be involved in his or her life. You probably won’t notice if your parent is behind on paying bills, making large or suspicious purchases or transferring funds to someone you don’t know if you only come around every few months or during the holidays.

Visit frequently and listen to what’s going on in your parent’s life. If you live far away, call often and take time to have a good conversation with Mom or Dad. Listen carefully for any mention of loaning money to someone, taking out a loan, forgetting to pay a bill or other red flags.

Find out: What Debt Collectors Don’t Want Seniors to Know

2. Discuss money with your parent

There’s no need to come across as an interrogator when asking Mom or Dad about finances. After all, this is the person who raised you, who deserves the respect of being treated as an adult, not as a child in need of supervision or guidance.

Instead, ask where you can locate financial and estate documents and account passwords if the parent becomes incapacitated or needs assistance paying bills. Ask how things are going financially and if your parent needs help with any financial or legal matters.

If your parent has an illness or disease such as dementia, Alzheimer’s or other types of cognitive decline, you may need to be more assertive or involved. However, keep in mind that your mom or dad probably wants to remain independent when it comes to finances for as long as safely possible.

Find out: How Much Does a Retirement Home Cost?

3. Watch for past-due notices

Next time you visit, keep an eye out for past-due notices or unopened bills. If your mom or dad is falling behind on bills, that could be a sign of memory loss, a medication that needs to be adjusted, or secret financial troubles.

If you notice red flags of a parent paying bills late or not at all, ask him or her about it in a non-confrontational way. Maybe it’s a one-time oversight. Or, maybe it’s a sign you need to remind or assist your parent with paying the bills on time.

Find out: How Seniors’ Bank Accounts Are Protected From Garnishment

4. Offer help with paying monthly bills

If a parent is slipping on paying monthly bills on time, offer to assist with completing the task each month. This doesn’t mean using your own money to pay their bills. Let Mom or Dad know that you are happy to get online and use your parent’s credit card or bank account – with their permission – to make sure all the bills are paid on time.

If your parent is resistant, start out with a minimal offer, such as paying only the utility bills. Once your parent no longer has that worry, he or she may welcome the assistance.

Find out: Why Most Seniors Don’t Need to Be Afraid of Judgements From Debt Collectors

5. Check out new “friends”

Does Mom have a new friend you’ve never met who visits frequently? Does Dad talk about a new buddy he met at the grocery store who is suddenly becoming a big part of his life? If these people are genuine friends with something positive to add to your parent’s life, great. However, your parent’s new “friend” could instead be an opportunist who sees an older person as a potential target for financial exploitation.

Try to meet your parent’s new friends to get a feel for their character and intentions. Swing by when the person is visiting or suggest that you all go to lunch. Keep an eye out for any suspicious activities or financial transactions.

Find out: Who Is Responsible for a Deceased Parent’s Debt?

6. Run background checks on caregivers

Always perform a background check, including the applicant’s driving record and credit report,  on a potential caregiver. You don’t want to unwittingly hire a convicted felon with a record of theft or someone with a string of DUIs to drive your parents to doctor’s appointments and on errands around town.

Contact your local state police for information on how to run a thorough background check that includes criminal and credit history. Important: Before performing a background check on a caregiver, you are legally required to obtain written permission from that person.

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About the Author

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp

Deb Hipp is a full-time freelance writer based in Kansas City, Mo. Deb went from being unable to get approved for a credit card or loan 20 years ago to having excellent credit today and becoming a homeowner. Deb learned her lessons about money the hard way. Now she wants to share them to help you pay down debt, fix your credit and quit being broke all the time. Deb's personal finance and credit articles have been published at Credit Karma and The Huffington Post.

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