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tumeric7979's avatar

What can I do to prevent my elderly father from making internet purchases?

Asked by tumeric7979 (116 points ) April 28th, 2014

My father who lives on a limited income and is still incharge of his own money (mostly), thinks nothing of clicking on sites and giving his credit card information out, because the site says “free”. Of course, there is always a catch that he doesn’t see, so when the credit card bill comes and I ask him about the charges, he can’t remember or will tell me, “No, it was free.”
I spend hours calling credit card companies and canceling all manner of things. The last thing I cancelled was Travel Accident Insurance. He is 90 and no longer drives. We have already taken away his car, and his mail. He loves exploring on the internet.
I would love to find some kind of control that would not allow him to input his information, or erase it when he tries. some one else mentioned this was possible. I am not very tech savvy but if you could point me in the right direction, I would be very interested in this kind of information.

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26 Answers

Dan_Lyons's avatar

Why don’t you take away his credit card(s) and give him prepaid cards instead?

tumeric7979's avatar

That may be what it comes down to. But most of what he buys, he thinks he is getting for free. Like a free trial of something. If he had the pre-paid card and put that number in, he would still spend his money . . at least until he ran out.

Dan_Lyons's avatar

Make sure each prepaid card has only $5.

CWOTUS's avatar

Welcome to Fluther.

This is a good question. My first thought was the same as @Dan_Lyons,’ and even though it seems that you’ve considered the idea, perhaps if you do it with “small denomination” prepaid cards – with zero credit attached – it will be at least a “lowest cost” solution. That is, you may occasionally sacrifice the $25 – $50 or so that you put onto the cards, but at least you know the total amount you stand to lose on any card, and you can figure out, based on his clicking-and-spending habits, how long each card may last.

Knowing that, you’d be saving yourself a ton of work (by which I mean “hours of your time”) trying to implement various blocking strategies, internet filters, etc., which in the end won’t be all that effective, anyway. That peace of mind and reduced need for vigilance should be worth a fair amount to you, I would think.

bolwerk's avatar

I don’t have a fool-proof solution, but it sounds like he clicks on a lot of ads and proceeds to buy things. One way to at least reduce that habit, maybe without him knowing, would be to install AdBlockPlus. It’s a Firefox (and I think Chrome) plugin that simply hides ads, which in turn makes a browsing experience generally more enjoyable anyway. He can’t click on them if he doesn’t see them.

tumeric7979's avatar

It is definitely worth consideration. I had been thinking I would just have to take away his credit card. But that feels so mean, and if I replaced it with a limited amount card at least he wouldn’t feel quite so bad. He doesn’t really use his credit card any more since we made him stop driving so perhaps this is the best idea. Most of his shopping he does with cash.

That is a great idea to hide the ads. I will definitely try that as well. He does get into the most trouble clicking on the ads. I don’t know if that is 100% of the issue but when asked how he got to places, that has been his response.

Haleth's avatar

Blocking ads is a great idea. If he likes to shop online, maybe you could buy him some gift cards to amazon.com. (Or somewhere like that.) The payment gets pre-loaded into the account, so he could shop for a set amount without having to enter credit information.

It sounds like (if you haven’t already) maybe you and some other relatives should have a serious talk with him, about how free stuff from the internet is never actually free.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

This is a great question, and you’re getting great ideas. I like the notion of giving him a limited budget either in the form of a prepaid card or to use on one particular site like Amazon. I also like the idea of blocking ads.

I also think a discussion with him is a good idea. Simply tell him that nothing is free. The ads are lying.

I hope all this works out for the best.

Coloma's avatar

Well…all you can do is try to educate him on impulsive purchases. He is 90, and if he is still of sound enough mind to shop online really, it is none of your business how he chooses to spend his money. He is lucid enough to browse the internet and shop, so I think it would be crossing a boundary to confiscate his credit cards.
I think it is GREAT he is 90 and using a computer!

Of course, I am not minimizing your time and effort in going over his CC statements, but, I do not advocate infantalizing him by taking his credit card away.
Unless he has serious dementia, I would work with trying to educate him on what he is doing and maybe steer him to certain, designated sites, like Amazon, as “safe” sites to make purchases.
It’s his money, he has a right to spend it as he chooses.

bolwerk's avatar

@tumeric7979: it’s a novel use of AdBlockPlus, which is mostly about making the web more bearable to browse. AdBlockPlus is free too.

I wonder, though, is this a symptom of senility perhaps? You might be able to win power of attorney based on such behavior.

If the answer is no, and he like some people is just a shopaholic, perhaps you can also find other ways to manipulate the reward mechanisms in his brain. Perhaps find a sufficiently addictive game?

I agree with taking away the credit card if you can, but it doesn’t sound easy. And there is some concern that replacing the habit with a gift card perhaps still feeds an addiction.

talljasperman's avatar

Have a credit alert when purchases are made that goes to your smartphone.

tumeric7979's avatar

We have had that discussion so many times. The reason he doesn’t get his mail anymore is because he couldn’t stop himself from entering sweepstakes. I can’t tell you how many times he took winning checks to the bank and was told by the bank security people that the checks were frauds. We had to get him an unlisted number because he couldn’t say no to sales people who called. I even made him watch the movie Nebraska with me, even though he is a very nice man who is definitely not a drunk, and he does pretty good with his money, but he seems to think if there is money in the bank now, it will also be there later. I want him to be as independent as possible, but it is hard. If he had more money it would be easier, but when he runs out, than me and my brothers will have to pitch in and we don’t have a lot either.

Regarding the credit alert. Can I do something about it at that time?

Coloma's avatar

@tumeric7979 You do have a dilemma, but I can’t help but smile at his feisty attitude. :-)

talljasperman's avatar

@tumeric7979 It is meant for parents supervising teenagers I don’t see a problem adapting on for seniors… It should work for each purchase with an approve deny selection.

tumeric7979's avatar

So I get to approve the credit? If so, this sounds like the perfect solution Is this a program that you buy or how do I install it?

Yes, he is feisty. And if I wasn’t in the eye of the storm, I’d think it was pretty funny myself.

talljasperman's avatar

I don’t know I just watched it on American television… You would have to ask each credit card company or credit bureau how to do it. I’m sorry that I can’t help you any more.

tumeric7979's avatar

Oh, and to comment on an earlier answer. I am already his Power of Attorney. I could do whatever I wanted. But I want him to have as abundant life as he can have given his current abilities. I don’t believe he is senile. From what I have read, loss of discernment is common as we age. He is childlike in his belief. He has lost his ability to question.

When he was getting sweepstakes letters he would read them to me. When I would say, it’s not true, he would say but it has my name on it. Yet, when I fill up for gas, he will calculate the miles/gallon I got on that tank of gas in his head, and be correct.

I will definitely look into the Credit Alert and you also gave me a great idea in that I think I will call the credit card company. They may have an idea.

Coloma's avatar

@tumeric7979 I am sandwiched between a 94 and 96 year old neighbor ladies, they drive me nuts but are also cute in their old age nuttiness. haha

ZEPHYRA's avatar

Sorry for not answering your question, I DO see the frustration it causes you but it is so sad to see every bit of life’s independence taken away due to old age. I am sure you are doing your best to ensure his safety and smooth end to life, but it is still painful not to be able to do your own thing. Bless the sweet old man.

hearkat's avatar

I think you could probably use software designed for ‘parental control’ of children’s internet use for this purpose. What type of computer and operating system is he using?

I’m wondering if AARP might also have suggestions for this situation. You may want to check their site, as well.

JLeslie's avatar

Can you just tell him he should never type in his credit card number online because bad people steal the information? That way it is not about him making a judgement call on whether something is free or not.

Does he need a credit card? Maybe take it away from him altogether. I don’t see the need for even a prepaid card, unless you want to maybe fool hm into thinking it isa credit card I guess.

Cruiser's avatar

Your father sounds horribly bored and the mail and the things he buys on the internet is his connection with the outside world. If he is home-bound, perhaps show him websites that will keep him entertained and busy. Show him Pinterest where he can pin and collect things that interest him instead of having to buy them and then have him show you what he has been up to. I am not good with other suggestions maybe other Jellies can suggest other places for him to hang out at.

janbb's avatar

^^Wish I had said that!

Cruiser's avatar

@janbb I channeled my answer through you!

gailcalled's avatar

You are describing the classic behavior of people with senile dementia, a slowing down of the blood supply to the brain. It causes the exact short term memory loss that your dad is manifesting. (Reasoning and reminding him of the realities is a fruitless and frustrating activity.)

My mother developed it in her late eighties. it is different from Alzheimer’s, which makes people angry (often enraged), violent, forgetful about the most fundamental hygiene requirements and addled across the board.

Has your dad been evaluated by his primary care physician?

We took over all my mother’s finances, but my sister, bro-in-law or I were able to pop in to see her several times a week.

She was living in a staged care community and had communal meals and othe r activities that placed her with people. Does your dad live alone? Had he access to friends? Does he have visitors?

Show your dad jigzone.com and http://worldofsolitaire.com (klondike turn three) for brain stimulating online games that are fun.

We used to play checkers and double solitaire with my mother, and from time to time she used to join in the group that was doing a massive and ongoing jigsaw puzzle.

I too vote for removing his credit cards and trying to find other activities to stimulate and amuse him.

janbb's avatar

My Mom was a manic shopper toward the end of her life. My brother was mainly in charge by then so I’m not sure how he handled it. She did have dementia and also exhibited signs of being bipolar.

I would either limit the credit cards to a pre-paid amount or take him shopping occasionally with real cash and as others have said, direct him toward stimulating sites without ads, if possible.

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