Defrauding the elderly has become a multi-billion-dollar business, but you can fight back and protect against it happening to you. Being aware of some prevalent seniors scams and taking some common sense steps to protect against it can help you be crime fighter rather than a victim.
Elder financial abuse - common seniors scams
Here is a brief rundown of some ways scam artists target seniors:
- Impersonating officials
Someone pausing as a debt collector or IRS agent might contact you with an urgent message about money you owe. Another approach is to claim they have money that is owed you and all they need is your bank account information so they can send it to you.
In either case, contacts like these are almost always fraudulent. Legitimate contacts about matters like this are generally made first in writing, and that should allow you to verify the addresses being given and get help dealing with the matter.
- Impersonating family members
Another type of pretense is for a caller to claim they are a family member in trouble who needs you to send money urgently. The truth is, few situations are so urgent that they can't wait for you to verify the person's identity with a call back.
- Fake computer info
You might get an e-mail claiming to be from your bank or a pop-up message saying you need to update a computer program right away. These messages are designed to get you to click on a link that could expose your computer to viruses and/or loss of information.
- Fraudulent investments
If someone comes to you claiming you can earn high returns with complete safety, it almost certainly means the investment will do neither one.
- Bogus charities
By phone, mail, and computer, seniors get bombarded by charitable requests. You not only have to be careful to whom you give your money; but you also need to keep in mind that, every time you send a check, you are letting someone know your bank and account number.
How to protect yourself from scams - 7 tips
With scammers so determined to come after you, here are some ways to protect yourself:
- Use caller ID
Knowing for sure with whom you are dealing is the first step in protecting yourself.
- Never give out personal or financial information over the phone
The goal of some phone calls is not necessarily to get money from you right away, but to gather information that will allow criminals to get at your money eventually. Don't give out any information, no matter how seemingly harmless, unless you have an established relationship with the caller and they have a legitimate reason to ask for it.
- Always get a call-back number before responding
A great way to deal with bogus phone calls is to ask for a call-back number. Scammers will almost always hang up as soon as you do this.
- Limit access to your accounts
You may need to give a family member or financial professional access to your finances, but do so sparingly so there can be accountability for how that access is used.
- Double-check website URLs
When you are directed to or receive a pop-up from a website claiming to be your bank or other authority, go directly to the official home page before you click on it. Check the domain name in the URL. Fake websites often have URLs designed to look similar to the real thing, but they don't quite match up.
- Never feel pressured to do something quickly
Financial decisions have long-term consequences. Never let anyone force you to make them in a hurry.
- Stay on top of your finances
Monitor your accounts at least monthly for suspicious transactions or sudden changes in value.
Protecting the elderly from financial abuse
Family members can play a crucial role in protecting the elderly from financial abuse. One simple method is to help elderly relatives balance their checking accounts once a month. This will not only allow you to spot unusual activity, but it can also help ensure that routine financial responsibilities such as bill-paying are not being neglected.
If you have fiduciary responsibility to an elderly relative, it might make sense to become authorized to receive copies of statements and otherwise be able to access account information. This will allow you to check in regularly to make sure everything seems to be in order.
Elder financial abuse is despicable and sad, but it is not going to go away anytime soon unfortunately. Awareness of common senior scams can help the elderly and their relatives guard against financial abuse.
If you need to change your checking account to prevent further access from scam artists: Better ways to find the best checking account
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (government website) -- Protecting older adults from fraud and financial exploitation