Question: Can you provide some tips on how to protect seniors from financial scams? My 76-year-old aunt was recently swindled out of $25,000 and I want to make sure my own mother is protected. — Concerned Daughter
Answer: Financial scams that target the elderly continue to be a huge problem in the U.S. In fact, it’s estimated that 1 in 5 Americans over age 65 are scammed out of roughly $36 billion every year. Here are some tips that can help you spot a scam, and what you can do to protect your parents.
Recognizing a scam
Spotting a scam or a con artist is not always easy to do. They range from shady financial advisers to slick-talking telemarketers to professional caregivers and relatives who steal from the very people they’re supposed to be looking after.
The most common scams targeting seniors today come in the form of tricky and deceitful telemarketing calls, email and internet scams, free-lunch seminars selling dubious financial products and endless junk mail peddling free vacation packages, sweepstakes, phony charity fundraisers and more. And, of course, there’s the ongoing problem of identity theft, Medicare and Social Security fraud, door-to-door scams and credit card theft.
The best way to spot a scam is to help your parents manage her finances, or at least monitor their accounts. Reviewing their financial statements each month can alert you to questionable checks, credit card charges or large withdrawals. Or, consider a service like EverSafe.com, which will automatically monitor their accounts, track suspicious activity and alert you when it detects a problem.
If, however, your parents don’t want you looking at their financial records, there are other clues. For example: Are they getting a lot of junk mail for contests, free trips, and sweepstakes? Are they receiving calls from strangers offering awards or moneymaking deals? Also, notice if their spending habits have changed, if they have complained about being short of money lately or have suddenly become secretive or defensive about their finances. All these may be signs of trouble.
Protect your parents
The most effective way to help protect your parents is to alert them to the different kind of scams going on today. To help you with this, the National Council on Aging has a list of “top 10 financial scams targeting seniors” at NCOA.org. Also see AARP’s Fraud Watch Network at AARP.org/money/scams-fraud and sign up to receive free scam alert emails from the Federal Trade Commission at FTC.gov/scams.
Some other tips to protect them include reminding them to never give out their personal information, Social Security number or financial information unless they initiated the contact and know the institution.
Also, see if they would be willing to let you sort their mail before they open it, so you can weed out the junk. To reduce the junk mail and/or email, use the Direct Marketing Association consumer opt-out service at DMAchoice.org. And to stop credit card and insurance offers, use the Consumer Credit Reporting Industry opt-out service at OptOutPrescreen.com or call 888-567-8688 — they will ask for Social Security numbers and dates of birth.
You should also register your parents’ home and cell phone numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry (DoNotCall.gov, 888-382-1222) to reduce telemarketers. To stop robocall scams on their landline phone use Nomorobo (Nomorobo.com), and if they use smartphones, use the free app Hiya (Hiya.com). You should also get a free copy of their credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com to make sure she isn’t a victim of identity theft.
If you suspect your parents have gotten scammed, report it to their local police, their bank (if money has been taken from their account) and their state’s Adult Protective Services agency that investigates reports of elderly financial abuse. Call the Eldercare Locator at 800-677-1116 to get the agency contact number in their area.
Send your senior questions to Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit SavvySenior.org. Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.