Courtesy of Travelers Insurance
An estimated 37% of U.S. senior citizens have experienced some form of financial abuse. These scams often originate through unsolicited phone calls, emails or in-person contact. Elderly victims may be asked to pay money upfront with the promise of a financial return that never comes to fruition. Family or friends may also attempt to build the trust of their victim in order to gain access to retirement savings accounts.
Even in light of these daunting facts, there are ways to help protect yourself from being a victim of financial abuse or fraud. Here are some precautionary steps to consider:
1. Screen Your Telephone Calls
Financial scams targeting the elderly are sometimes perpetuated through unsolicited phone calls. To avoid becoming a target of these scams, use caller identification (often referred to as “Caller ID”) to screen calls from unknown numbers before answering your phone. Keep in mind, though, that Caller ID numbers can be spoofed to make it look like a legitimate business is calling.
Play it safe: Let your voicemail or answering machine pick up to allow the unknown caller to leave a message. Return the call only after you’ve verified the phone number as belonging to a legitimate business. To verify it, use a pre-determined telephone number typically found on your bank statements or on the back of your debit or credit card.
If you do answer the phone and talk to someone, never provide your personal information, such as a birth date, social security number, bank account, credit card information and, most importantly, passwords. Companies with which you have an existing relationship should have the information needed to work with you. When you speak to someone over the phone about a business transaction, write down the caller’s name, place of business and phone number for your records.
Another common scam against elderly individuals occurs where callers claim to be grandchildren in need of money (for example, to make bail, to get home, or to make tuition payments). If you receive such a request, hang up and call back the parent of the grandchild at a pre-determined phone number.
2. Monitor Your Finances
Fraudsters may prey on senior citizens in hopes of gaining access to their retirement savings. If you suspect that someone is trying to steal your identity to open new accounts in your name or gain access to your existing accounts, alert your bank as soon as possible. Set up text or phone notifications to receive alerts when someone tries to access your accounts.
Review your bank statements for any unusual activity, such as withdrawals by unfamiliar names or companies. If this happens to you, consider contacting three credit bureaus to freeze your accounts, to help protect against further fraud.
If online banking is available, sign up to monitor your account activity more frequently. Check your credit report at least once per year to spot signs of financial abuse, such as loans you did not apply for or previously inactive accounts with current balances. Consider purchasing credit monitoring to receive alerts about unauthorized activity on your accounts.
3. Increase Home Security
Take extra precautions to secure your home and valuables. Install adequate lighting in and around your home to discourage anyone from trying to approach unseen. A home security system can issue a call for help and alert the police at the sign of intruders. Placing a security camera at your front door can also show you who is knocking before you answer.
In addition to unsolicited visitors taking advantage of elderly residents, you will want to guard against offline identity fraud. When you plan to have contractors working inside your home, be sure to secure any personal documents or banking materials such as your checkbook or statements out of site and if possible, filed in a locked cabinet or safe.
4. Know the People Handling Your Money
Unfortunately, there have been reported cases of elder financial abuse perpetuated by close friends or family members. To prevent this type of fraud, take care to only place your assets in the hands of those you trust. Develop business relationships with your banker, an investment advisor or an insurance agent to develop a professional network to rely on. You can work with your trusted network to set financial and spending goals. Consider providing written instructions identifying who you authorize to have access to your accounts and make financial decisions on your behalf.
5. Review Legal Documents Before Signing
You should never be pressured into signing a contract or other legal agreement. Rather than signing on the spot, ask for a copy of the document to review on your own. If you are making a large purchase, understand how refunds are handled beforehand in case you are not satisfied with the service or product. If you don’t understand part of the contract or wish to make changes before signing, consult a lawyer for assistance.
Being vigilant about your personal and financial information is an important way to help protect yourself from being the victim of financial abuse or fraud. Make it your practice to follow these precautionary steps daily.
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 Travelers Enterprise Market Research, June 2019.
Enterprise Market Research findings: Elder-Fraud_Revised-Final_June-2019.pdf