When it comes to scoping potential victims, experts say con artists tend to look for individuals who are home during the day to answer fraudulent telemarketing calls, retired people who are hoping for one more shot to increase their nest egg, and those who will be too proud to admit they were “had” and report that they were victimized to the authorities.

Sound like anyone you know?

Older adults are widely acknowledged to be frequent targets of financial scammers. According to a recent survey by the Better Business Bureau, nearly 30 percent of all fraud victims are over the age of 65. Don’t feel paranoid if you’re worried that your parents or other family members may fall victim to fraud — you’re just being prudent.

Fortunately, there are a number of steps you can take to reduce the chances your family will be victims. Here are some of the most prevalent frauds and ways to help protect the people you care about.

Telemarketing fraud

Telemarketing fraud is probably the most common scam of all. Shady marketers may call the older adults in your family to hawk investment schemes, vacation clubs, or sweepstakes plans, and then pressure them to sign up immediately because the offer is only good for a limited time. Often these marketers will demand some kind of up-front investment or fee to participate, which is always a red flag that the caller is not on the up-and-up.

You can warn your older family members to not give out any personal information or credit card numbers, or otherwise buy anything from anyone over the phone. Some older people have a harder time hanging up on obnoxious salespeople because they don’t want to be rude. If this is the case with your loved ones, get them a phone equipped with Caller ID so that they simply don’t have to pick up unless they recognize the number of the caller. Also, make sure their phone number is registered with the national Do Not Call registry , which will significantly cut down — if not eliminate altogether — the number of telemarketers calling their home.

Internet fraud

Whether it’s a phishing scam — e-mails designed to trick people into revealing personal information, including passwords to banking sites — or the well-worn Nigerian banking frauds, the Internet is rife with scam artists looking for potential victims.

To protect your family members online, make sure they know not to give out personal information to strangers, download e-mail attachments from people they don’t know, or click on links from unsolicited e-mail offers. Check to ensure that their antivirus software is installed and up to date, which will help protect them from inadvertently downloading malicious programs designed to collect personal information from their computers. And set their spam filters and Internet browser security settings to the highest levels possible.

Identity theft

Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the U.S., according to the Federal Trade Commission, so it’s a good idea to be wary about thieves stealing your loved ones’ personal information, such as their Social Security number or their bank or credit card account numbers and passwords. With this information, identity thieves can open new accounts, rack up charges on credit cards, empty bank accounts, and generally wreak havoc on their bank balances and credit ratings.

One way to prevent identity theft is to sign up your parents or other family members for credit monitoring services such as Experian and Identity Guard, which will alert you or them to any suspicious activity in their credit file, including applications for new credit or even suspiciously large spending on any existing accounts (most major credit card companies offer similar plans). These services can catch identity thieves before they do much or any damage.

Fraudulent investment schemes and seminars

Another scam to look out for involves calls and mailers for so-called “free” investment seminars, where your family members will likely be strong-armed into signing up for some type of investment scheme, regardless of whether it actually makes sense for their personal situation. These seminars — usually lunches and dinners at local hotels — promise advice about retirement investing, estate planning, or some type of dubious investment, and they may require a hefty up-front fee to attend.

If your loved ones work with a financial planner, ask their advisor to explain to them that these seminars are usually a gigantic waste of time and money. Make sure they know not to invest their money in anything without getting independent third-party advice.

Many people are taken in by investment schemes brought to them by friends and neighbors who claim to have already hit it big. That’s why it’s important to pay attention when your loved ones mention new friends who know a lot about money or are great investors. Remind them not to make any investments or estate planning changes without running the numbers by their trusted financial advisors.

Stay on top of things

Perhaps the most important way to ward off con artists is to simply remain involved in your family members’ day-to-day lives. If you live nearby, stop by their house often to check in. Take a glance at their mail to see if they’re receiving more than their share of sweepstakes offers, travel and vacation club invitations, and investment solicitations. Check their caller ID logs to find out if they’re being inundated with telemarketing calls.

If there’s an increase in these types of junk mail, e-mail spam, and phone offers, it may mean they’ve already fallen for some type of scheme and have been added to a marketer’s database of potential victims.

Also, if they have any household help, like home health aides, make sure you meet them and are occasionally at the house when they’re working. Because they often have access to sensitive personal data, household workers are occasionally the culprits when older adults are the victims of fraud. When hiring any employees who will have access to personal information, be sure to run a credit check or go through an agency that will run a more thorough background check.

There is a chance you won’t notice anything new or out of the ordinary during your next visit to see your parents. However, it’s possible that you’ll spot worrisome clues of trouble or see crises unfolding before you eyes. Take the time during your visit to be a bit of a double agent, sniffing out the following 5 potential signs of trouble. You’re not being nosy, you’re being proactive and smart.

1. Look at physical appearance.

Look for:

Obvious weight loss. Anything from depression to cancer to difficulty shopping and cooking can be behind a noticeable loss of weight.

Increased frailty. If you can notice something “different” about a person’s strength and stature just in a hug, it’s noteworthy. Pay close attention to how your loved one walks (shuffles more?) and moves (rises easily from a chair? has trouble with balance?), comparing these benchmarks to the last time you were together.

Obvious weight gain. Injury, diabetes, and dementia (because the person doesn’t remember eating and has meals over and over) might be the cause. So can money troubles that lead to fewer fresh foods, more dried pasta and bread.

Strange body odor. Sad to say, changes in personal grooming habits because of memory trouble or physical ailments might be noticeable on very close inspection. Look, too, for changes in makeup, hair, or the ability to wear clean clothes. Personal care assistants can help make sure your parent is able to continue their normal grooming and hygiene habits.

2. Look through the mail.

Look for:

Unopened personal mail. Everybody leaves junk mail alone, but few of us can ignore a good old-fashioned, hand-addressed letter.

Unopened bills. This can be a sign that your loved one is having difficulty managing finances — one of the most common first signs of dementia.

Letters from banks, creditors, or insurers. They may be routine business. But it’s alarming if they’re referring to overdue payments, overdrawn balances, recent accidents, or other worrisome events.

Thank-you messages from charities. Older adults are often vulnerable to scammers, and even those who have always been fiscally prudent are vulnerable if they’re having trouble with thinking skills (a common sign of Alzheimer’s disease). Some charities hit up givers over and over, and your loved one may not remember having donating the first time.

3. Do a test drive

Look for:

Nicks or dents as you enter and exit the car. These can be signs of careless driving.

Whether your loved one fastens his or her seatbelt. Rote basics are usually, but not always, remembered by someone with mild dementia.

Signs of tension, preoccupation, or being easily distracted. Is your loved one no longer willing to drive at night? Or on highways? Is it hard for him or her to talk to you or listen to the radio and also pay close attention to the road?

Signs of impaired driving. Tailgating, slow reaction time, going consistently below speed limit, confusing gas and brake pedals are signs to watch for. See 8 more ways to assess someone’s driving.

Dashboard warning lights. Does the car have sufficient oil, gas, antifreeze, windshield-wiper fluid?

4. Inspect the kitchen

Look for:

Perishables past their expiration dates. Your loved one might be buying more than he or she needs, as we all do — but you want to be sure there’s a reasonable ability to ditch the old stuff (rather than use it).

Multiples of the same item. Ten bottles of ketchup or a dozen different vinegars might indicate he or she can’t remember from one shopping trip to the next what’s in the cupboards at home.

Appliances that are broken and haven’t been repaired. Check the microwave, coffeemaker, toaster, washer, and dryer — any device you know your parent used to use routinely.

Signs of past fire. Look for charred stove knobs or pot bottoms, potholders with burned edges, a discharged fire extinguisher, smoke detectors that have been disassembled. Accidents happen — but accidental fires are a common home danger for older adults.

Increased takeout or simpler cooking. If someone who used to cook a lot no longer does or has downshifted to extremely simple recipes, the explanation could be a change in physical or mental ability.

5. Look around the living areas.

Look for:

Piles of clutter. Especially if this is a change for your loved one, being unable to throw anything away may be a sign of a neurological or physical issue. Papers that spill onto the floor are a particular tripping hazard.

Cobwebs, signs of spills that haven’t been picked up, or other signs of housekeeping that’s more lax than it once was. Spills are a common sign of dementia — the person lacks the follow-through to clean up after a mess. Or your loved one may have physical limitations and simply need more housekeeping help.

Clutter and grime in the bathroom. Often those who make an extra effort to tidy for guests in main rooms neglect the bathroom, where a truer picture of how the person is keeping up with things may be reflected.

Signs that your loved one has cut back on activities and interests. Is a hobby area abandoned? Are there no longer engagements written on the hall calendar? There are many reasons people cut back, but dropping out of everything and showing interest in almost nothing is a red flag for depression.

For more information please contact us at Caredwell.