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How To Protect Aging Parents From The Risks Of Online Shopping

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For most computer literate elders, online shopping is a great convenience and is usually fine. Until something goes wrong, that is. With an aging parent who is a little confused, or who has memory problems, online purchases can become a trap.

While most purchases go as planned, one can understand that sometimes the wrong thing is delivered or what is paid for doesn’t arrive. Sometimes all too much arrives and no one stops it. The aging parent who has a little trouble keeping track of things will not know how to address these things successfully. They may be baffled by return instructions, deadlines, or refusal by the supplier to reverse charges for the item. Sometimes the item is offered by scammers who are there to rip off anyone who takes their offer, and then never gets it. The aging person may lack the assertiveness, persistence and concentration it takes to get a refund or pursue an inappropriate charge.

Here at, where we work with the families of elders struggling with difficulties, we hear complaints of many kinds about online shopping. Here are a few, real-life examples:

An 88 year old Grandpa keeps ordering things online. He forgets he ordered something and orders it again. When the adult children visit, they find piles of unopened Amazon
boxes, various packages and empty boxes piled up in the entryway of Grandpa’s house. He is confused and can’t say what he bought or why.

A 79-year-old woman who was recently widowed is using her late husband’s online account for orders for herself. But, she keeps getting subscription deliveries her husband had for items she can’t use and doesn’t want. She doesn’t know how to stop the subscriptions. She called the company to try to stop them, but she is still being charged for the subscriptions.

An 80-year-old woman is addicted to shopping. She hoards unopened boxes of items she ordered, and these pile up. Her house is getting filled up with her out-of-control purchases. Her family asks her to stop but she ignores them. No one knows what to tell her.

What Can Families Do About These Problems?

Limit credit card use

We often advise family members that they can protect their aging parents by setting up a monitored, limited credit card. As long as the elder has access to a credit card, this usually is a solution. Grandpa’s spending can be checked and stopped when necessary. The credit card won’t work at sites the family blocks.

Dispute improper charges

Terminate subscriptions the aging parent no longer wants. It may be difficult for them to get this done, so families can help. If charges still appear on statements, the law protects your aging parent. The FTC advises that we should dispute any charges that are improper.


This is a disease and a very difficult problem. Family cannot talk someone out of hoarding, as it has no logical cause. Family may be able to assume financial control with appointment as agents on the Power of Attorney document. They can then close some accounts, return as many items as possible and perhaps also provide a limited credit card, as described above. Hoarders have an intense emotional attachment to the things hoarded. Constant monitoring can keep the amount hoarded more contained rather than ignored. Expect resistance. This is never easy.

The takeaway message is that family of aging parents who are not managing online shopping well need to get directly involved. This may take careful planning, good timing and cooperation of all to protect the elders from their own confusion and its expensive results. Ignoring this can make things worse over time. You can be watchful and intervene as necessary.

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