While visiting my 86-year-old mother a couple years ago, I discovered a recurring monthly $25 charge on her credit card statement that she couldn’t explain. (At the time she was living alone in her own apartment — fortunately, she now lives with my sister and her family.)
After hours of trying to help her remember what the fee was for and researching where the charge was coming from, I figured out that my mom had signed up for a “free” credit report which was now costing her $25 a month.
Mom's Unending $25 Monthly Charges
While I was talking to a customer service person at the credit report company during my effort to cancel the fee and get a refund, I learned that mom had actually gone through the process of signing up, getting charged $25 per month, canceling it herself, then forgetting the entire ordeal and signing up a second time, proceeding to get billed $25 per month for a “free” credit report all over again.
(MORE: 5 Steps to Combat Elder Abuse)
The $25-a-month charge had gone on for several months each time. In the words of famed Yankee catcher Yogi Berra: Déjà vu all over again.
About Mom: She has been diagnosed with dementia; she can remember pretty clearly what happened 50 years ago, but five minutes ago is a challenge. Physically, she is in pretty great shape for an eightysomething; she still plays an occasional round of golf and enjoys dancing at the senior center. She’s also sharp mentally in many ways — she taught me a card game not long ago and beat me at it practically every time we played. And she’s a regular computer user, emailing friends, surfing the web and Skyping with me.
But her short-term memory problem can wreak havoc.
America's Financial Elder Abuse Epidemic
That’s why I started to worry about how safe she was online. My mother had responded to the “free” credit report offer twice, after all. What if someone really sinister sent her a phishing email asking her to enter her credit card number in some scam, I wondered. Would she know what was happening?
According to The Wall Street Journal, “The fleecing of older Americans is becoming an epidemic…One in every five Americans age 65 or older has been abused financially.”
After a lot of thought and planning, my computer programmer son, John, and I came up with what we hope can protect not only my mom but elderly mothers and fathers across America, and their families.
(MORE: Top Tips to Protect Seniors Against Financial Scams)
Creating an iPad App to Help
We created an iPad app called Simplicity Center ($4.99) designed to help provide seniors with a simple and safe Internet experience.
Simplicity Center lets them stay connected to friends and loved ones online while reducing the chance they’ll be pounced on by crooks by limiting the people with whom they can communicate using email and IM. The app can also be set up to allow its user to visit only predetermined websites.
It’s especially aimed at making the Internet safer for seniors with age-related challenges including memory loss or dementia by protecting them from online predators, phishing and spam.
The way it works: A loved one, friend or caregiver acts as the administrator and sets up the features to meet the specific needs of the user.
If the administrator restricts the user to the Simplicity Center alone (using iPad’s built-in Guided Access feature), then the entire online experience is handled through the app, allowing controlled access to email and the web, limiting exposure to unwanted, and sometimes predatory, email and websites. The administrator can also create calendar events and reminders and set up an address book of the user’s trusted contacts.
Will Simplicity Center solve the epidemic of financial elder abuse? Unfortunately, there is no single solution that can solve that problem. But I hope the app can help some of us put up roadblocks and give families and other caregivers a little more peace of mind.
John Kuefler is Executive Vice President and Chief Digital Officer at Callahan Creek, a marketing agency in Lawrence, Kansas, and co-founder of The Simplicity Center.
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