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My MIL is 85 and lives fairly independently alone in her house. I see her every other day and keep an eye on her health and physical issues. Though she is getting frail, I had no idea that her “executive function” was slipping. Last week I discovered (too late) that she was scammed out of $20K after clicking on a phishing link. One of those ridiculous stories that you think no-one in their right mind would fall for… helping the FBI catch a child trafficking ring by letting them “trace the money” using her cash. The money is gone (we contacted the bank, police, real FBI) but what now for MIL? Clearly she is vulnerable and unable to recognize bad decisions. Otherwise she seems ok (we are getting a doc evaluation next week). I don’t want to take away her computer as it’s an important social outlet, but how to protect her when no-one is there?

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After falling for a couple of phishing emails my mom voluntarily gave me her email login. I check her email in the morning right before work and hit the "spam" button on all the garbage emails. Between that and unsubscribing from all the legitimate but unneeded email lists her email is pretty clean now and takes very little maintenance.

If she thinks of you as her "tech support" person she may be willing.
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Libbby May 23, 2022
Good idea - I’ll start doing that. Unfortunately she gets a lot of “cute animal” links emailed from other elderly friends. Maybe I can screen them as well…
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We took a different approach.   My father felt good about donating to good causes, so we had a discussion in which I proposed that he select only those causes which I verified as legit.    It wasn't that difficult, since that information is available through sites that collect data on charities and alleged charities.   He could still benefit from the positive effects of donations and helping those in need.

He also agreed that no funds would be donated to any institution, charity, or organization that paid its CEO or other staff $100K or over.    So from then on, whenever he got a solicitation, he called me, I checked out the salaries and told him what the CEO and staff were making.    I also checked out salaries of organizations to which he had already donated.  The concept that someone could make $100K (at that time, some years ago) w/o real down to earth work was so offensive that the new procedure was implemented easily.
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My first question is HOW did they get the money? Based on the fact that she clicked a link - I'm assuming they tracked it via her computer to her bank account - but FIL has also had a situation where someone CALLED him after he clicked a link and they asked him for his bank information (or told him to call them and he did - he never really told us the truth on that one) - so that's why I'm asking. If it was all via her computer - I'm sure that all of the experts that you have spoken to have told you how to clean that computer thoroughly (or did it for you) by clearing the cache and history, malware and virus protection, ensuring that there are no keylogger programs installed to watch everything she types, etc. Additionally you will want to ensure that if she is going to use that computer for her socializing, that you (or she) don't log into her bank account any longer on that computer. (check the history frequently).

If she only uses certain websites - I would suggest parental controls. As long as you feel those sites are safe and not the ones that offered the link in the first place. You can choose what sites she visits and block others entirely. Anything else she wants to visit she would need to vet with you and you could add to the approved list.

Get a good tech support for her computer - either through her ISP or her computer provider. They charge for premium support but it's a good back up and they can help right away.

Get a good popup blocker and keep it turned on. This will catch the vast majority of popups and a decent number of link popups that come up that are just garbage to begin with. This will hopefully also catch any popups that try to give them a number to call with anything that might slip through.

These types of things come in via cell phone too. Via email or text. I suggest prescreening email if you can - this could have potentially been the source on the computer or even a Facebook messenger link.

For the phone there is also Telecalm if you are concerned about what calls are coming and going. (but that has a hefty fee). There are other programs like it as well.

Text messages -for my FIL he doesn't really understand technology very well - just well enough to *use* it to make it go but not really well enough to make it work well if that makes sense. So text messages he gets them but he doesn't respond to them except by accident (except for the odd deliberate ones that take him FOREVER to actually respond to correctly). So we go through his text messages and delete and clock the scams).

Here is the thing that the people that fall for scams the easiest don't seem to realize. The more vulnerable they are - the more vulnerable they are. By that I mean, the more you engage or respond in the slightest, the more you are going to receive. So if you are like my FIL, he ANSWERS every call, whether he recognizes the number or not, and he will talk to them....he will call unknown numbers back...he will click on links etc. Our only saving grace so far has been two parts - first SIL/BIL have mostly walked in and interrupted him selling his life on the open market a number of times and second FIL stops short of giving out his bank account information because he gets suspicious (right now anyway). But the reality for most people that are self aware is that we recognize that scammers are selling our information every time we react- so we ignore them. Every time our loved ones react - their information gets sold. We did the math once. There are 8 of us in the immediate family - not counting FIL. TOGETHER we probably get 25 'scam' type calls or texts in a given week across 8 cell phones. So roughly 3 each. FIL gets that 25 in a DAY across 2 phones (home and cell) - because he engages them, he picks up the phone on both. We've tried to tell him that they sell his numbers and every time we 'kill' one 5 more come to their funeral!

Good luck and I'm so sorry this happened!! We worry about this exact thing!
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Libbby May 24, 2022
Thanks for the good advice - I will do a virus sweep and install popup blockers ASAP. We’ve locked down her bank accounts, but you would not believe that they actually convinced her to withdraw large sums herself IN CASH and then deposit it into a bitcoin ATM. I was weeping when she finally told me, she was so convinced that she was doing the right/heroic thing. Good lord.
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an additional step in protecting your MIL would be to add a home phone with call blocking capabilities. I purchased a VTech Cordless phone with Smart call blocker technology. It has been a life saver since my Dad lost 10k to a phone scammer. The scam, robo, unknown and private calls are not able to get thru. Only calls on the phones allowed list are able to get thru. Note: I had to add his home number to the blocked list bc scammers were spoofing calls with his name and number.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=abJ7tCOzY98
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That's the reason why scammers target the seniors. Many are cognitively impaired and are easy victims. Somebody will have to supervise her on her computer, and have her tested by a neuropsychologist before is too late for her assigning a POA.
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Given she is making decisions that are very, very serious (large amount of cash). I would tell her that her computer needs to go in for servicing. Take the computer. Just see if she can learn to cope without it? Take her off social media if able. Just tell her that they now have her information they will continue to target her (true actually). A little scare tactics would not hurt.
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Good idea, get her bank account info off the computer, close down the accounts. Also, you might want to open her inbox on your computer, if you can get the password from her. That way you can keep an eye on any scammers sending e mails. Good luck.
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Money is the aim of vulture’s game.

Unless someone is willing to live with MIL to oversee all that is going on then you will constantly be on pins and needles wondering what’s next.

When one’s executive function weakens, vultures sense their pry. 

Before you know it, there will be vultures all around MIL and she will fight you because these friendly vultures are her friends. Everyone who calls or visits is her friend and you become the enemy if you get in the way.
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You mother seems savvy with using the Internet, and she communicates via email, so taking away her away her computer or Internet access is a terrible idea; she'd be isolated. Still, she fell victim to what keeps scammers in business: the compassionate hearts of the elderly. I'm considered elderly, but I'd also like to think that I'm too savvy to fall victim to a scam. I came close, once. I think most of us have, no matter what our age.

Anyway, the issue seems to be access to her bank account or eventually, her debit/credit card. Many people here have suggested that you become the gate-keeper for access to those accounts. That's a good idea. It's tedious to set up, but once you do, it should be fairly automatic. You shouldn't have to monitor her email.

Whether or not you gain gatekeeper capability, she should put a freeze on her credit card account through Experian, TransUnion or Equifax. It protects her from identity theft because creditors won't have access to her credit records, & people can't open an account in her name.
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If you have POA, then you could cancel her financial accounts (no credit or debit cards and no checking accounts). An Elder Law Attorney can help her, or you, get her affairs in order. I know there are ways to use parental controls and you can find out how to set those up on her computer.

https://www.pcmag.com/picks/the-best-parental-control-software - if she's on Apple: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT201304
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