It’s an unfortunate reality that con artists and other unscrupulous types frequently target seniors. Knowing that many live alone, fraudsters often attempt to capitalize on their loneliness and the lack of another individual in the household to help manage their finances. Additionally, those who grew up in the 1950s and earlier may find it uncomfortable to say “no” or hang up on unwanted callers since, as the FBI explains, they were generally raised to be more polite and trusting than later generations. Furthermore, once the senior has fallen prey to a scam, he or she often becomes a prime mark for more shady dealings or illegal schemes. To protect your parents or other elderly loved ones from the exploits of those who would try to steal their money, start by following these steps:
Stay alert to common scams: Ensure that you’re familiar with popular tactics being used to take advantage of seniors and make a point of discussing them with your parents, elderly relatives or other seniors for whom you care. Some examples of common scams targeting elderly individuals are:
- Fake lotteries and sweepstakes that require fees to enter or claim a prize (e.g. for postage and handling)
- Fraudulent phone calls from individuals impersonating representatives from the IRS, a healthcare provider, Social Security Administration or Medicare
- Offers for new health or anti-aging products or low-cost or free medications
- Phone calls from someone posing as a grandchild pleading for money to get out of a predicament (e.g. they are in jail and need to post bail)
- Solicitations from fake charities
- Pitches for high-yield investments with very little risk and pitches from unregistered brokers
Warn them about phishing scams via phone and email: As you may know, a popular method criminals use to gain access to personal financial data is to pose as a representative from a legitimate business, organization or government agency. Make sure your parent or other elderly loved one is also aware of this practice, often called phishing scams, and that they understand the importance of not divulging personal information such as credit card numbers, bank accounts, social security numbers or birthdates to anyone who contacts them by phone or email with a request for this information.
Point out that if they believe the call or email they receive is legitimate, they can always research the organization online and locate their proper contact information, then call them directly. Also remind them that anyone can spoof a phone number to make it appear as though another person is calling.
Help block phone solicitations: If a senior you care for uses a landline, getting the number unlisted for free can reduce telemarketing calls. You can help them add their number to the Federal Trade Commission’s Do Not Call Registry at www.donotcall.gov or by calling 1.888.382.12222. Just be aware that political calls, surveys and charities are not considered telemarketing and are therefore not covered by the FTC’s definition of “telemarketing.”
Although cold calls from telemarketers to cell phones are generally illegal, they do happen, so it can be a good idea to unlist mobile numbers as well. In addition, service providers such as Nomorobo can identify and block robocalls (recorded phone calls) deemed illegal by the FTC, while allowing legal automated calls to get through, such as reminders about doctor’s visits, prescriptions alerts and weather warnings. Free for Internet-enabled landlines, Nomorobo also has a mobile app that can be used with an iPhone for $1.99 per month. Another easy to block telemarketing calls is with the app Mr. Number, which can also block texts and is available for both iPhone and Android.
Eliminate “junk” mail: If you visit your parents or another senior’s home and notice a pile up of unsolicited mail, you may want to consider encouraging them to put their address on opt-out lists through the DMA Choice Program. Representing about 80 percent of the total volume of marketing mail in the U.S., the DMA Choice Program allows you to stop receiving mail from individual companies within four categories (credit offers, catalogs, magazine offers and other mail offers) or from an entire category at once. For more resources on how to eliminate unwanted mail, visit http://bit.ly/OptOutResourcesForJunkMail.
Watch their credit reports: Keeping an eye on your parent or other senior’s credit report can help tell you if any accounts have been opened without their authorization. Remind them that every year they are entitled to a free credit report, which they can get from annualcreditreport.com or by calling 1.877.322.8228.
Check out investment advisors or brokers: Has your parent or another older relative given you an indication that they are considering jumping into an investment that seems a bit questionable to you? A quick online search will often turn up what you need to know about the investment or person who has pitched it to them. If you’re still concerned, visit the California Department of Business Oversight, which oversees financial service providers and products, and licenses securities brokers and dealers, investment advisors, payday lenders and other consumer finance lenders.
Lastly, as you approach your elderly loved one about any concerns you may have regarding potential scams that could threaten their security, keep in mind that they may be reluctant or ashamed to admit if they have been swindled by a con artist or are considering putting their money toward an investment that might not meet with your approval. Be careful to avoid coming off as judgmental or condescending when you question them, or they may shut you down before you’ve had a chance to explain your reasoning. For help reporting fraud against a senior, AARP Foundation’s ElderWatch is an excellent resource.