What can children or caretakers do to protect their parents or charges from unwanted solicitations?
A great deal depends upon how healthy -- mentally and physically -- the investor is. A senior who can get out and about, and who is mentally active and on top of things, needs your help as a sounding board. Offer to be available whenever he or she wishes to talk about finances. That way, if trouble looms, you'll have an early warning. If a senior is mentally acute but physically disabled, you can be especially helpful as a bookkeeper and errand-runner. By involving yourself in the details of the investment situation, you'll be in a good position to protect against unwanted sales pitches and unsuitable products.
As I have learned from protecting my own father, one of the most difficult situations is a senior who is mentally disabled. For example, physicians advise encouraging an Alzheimer's patient to continue to do as much as he or she can. If the patient's routine in the past has included keeping track of the family finances, then however imperfectly, that might be allowed to continue -- but only under the discreet and watchful eye of a caregiver. Any broker who deals directly with a mentally disabled customer is playing with fire. As a result, those who do are almost certainly the last ones you want to have contact with your own parent or loved one.
“Surely, there is a special place in hell for those who would rob the elderly of their life savings.”
Here are some specific ways that you can limit the number of solicitations that a parent or other senior in your charge receives, in order to better protect them from potential scams.
Ways to protect your parents from scams
- Register your parent or charge with the National Do Not Call Registry to reduce their exposure to unwanted cold calls. Children of senior citizens can do this for them.
- Encourage your parent or charge to skip "free lunch" seminars, even if they are pitched as educational events, unless you have first researched the background of the sponsor, and unless you go to the seminar, too.
- Maintain constant communication with your parent or charge about issues of significant financial consequence. This will give you an early warning system when an unwanted solicitation first occurs, and help you to insure that it doesn't continue.
What should the government's role be in its citizens' retirement security, if any?
First and foremost, the SEC is a law enforcement agency. We inspect, examine, investigate and charge people with offenses. By patrolling the markets for securities swindlers and scam artists, we fulfill the government's responsibility to maintain a civil society under the rule of law.
When it comes to determining our law enforcement priorities, I can think of no more valuable target than those who prey upon America's seniors. Surely there is a special place in hell for those who would rob the elderly of their life savings.
In addition to our law enforcement function, the SEC plays a much broader role as the investors' advocate. In this capacity, we're committed to providing senior citizens with the information they need to safeguard their investments. We're also committed to ensuring that younger citizens can understand our markets, so that they start putting away money for retirement beginning at an early age, and stick to that plan throughout their lives. For investors of all ages, we're providing online resources to permit comparison shopping for mutual funds and other savings vehicles. And we're providing all of this information in user-friendly "plain English."
Our capital markets depend upon investors' confidence that they'll be protected from fraud and unfair dealing. Our mission at the SEC is to ensure that investors are protected as they plan and save for retirement.