How Older Adults Can Steer Clear of Scam Artists
Anyone can be a victim of financial fraud, but older adults are particularly at risk. Among the reasons: Scam artists and thieves know that many senior citizens have accumulated money and other assets throughout the years. Those who commit elder fraud range from loved ones — family members, friends or caregivers — to complete strangers. Here are practical tips on how to protect yourself or someone else:
Remember the red flags of a fraud. Some of the classic warning signs include:
Research a new financial advisor before investing money or paying for services. Though the vast majority of brokers, financial planners and other professionals are honest and reputable, some commit fraud. Before committing to working with a financial advisor, confirm that he or she is properly registered or licensed and has a clean record.
Be careful who you give the legal authority to access or manage your money. One way older adults prepare for the possible future need to have someone else make financial decisions and transact business for them is by having a legal document called a power of attorney (POA). An attorney can help you decide the right type of POA for your needs.
If you decide to use a POA, contact your bank and other financial institutions to confirm they will accept the document you plan to use. They may have their own form and require that customers use that.
Protect your personal information. Never provide Social Security numbers, bank account information, PINs, passwords and other sensitive information in response to an unsolicited call, fax, letter, e-mail or text message, no matter how genuine the situation may appear.
Sign up for direct deposit. Direct deposit into your bank account is the fastest and safest way to receive money or other payments, such as your pension or an income tax refund.
Noting a recent scam that has resulted in thefts of benefit payments, check to make sure the full deposit you are entitled to arrives in your bank account when you expect it. An unexpected letter from the Social Security Administration or another agency indicating your direct deposit information has been changed is a sign of fraud, and you should independently look up that organization’s contact information and notify it immediately.
Closely monitor credit card bills and bank statements. Look at your statements as soon as they arrive and report unauthorized purchases, withdrawals or anything suspicious, regardless of how small or large the dollar amount.
Immediately report a fraud or theft to someone you trust as well as the proper authorities. Many older people make the mistake of not telling loved ones or not contacting the police or other law enforcement agencies when they’ve been victimized. Perhaps some are embarrassed to admit that they were “misled” and lost money. Others have fears of losing their independence. As difficult as this may be, reporting the incident is the only opportunity you have to recover some or all of your loss.
Learn more about common frauds and how to respond to them. You also can search in back issues of FDIC Consumer News at www.fdic.gov/consumernews for numerous articles on avoiding different kinds of fraud. Among them is an article on elder fraud in our Winter 2011/2012 issue (www.fdic.gov/consumers/consumer/news/cnwin1112/elderfraud.html).
In June of 2013, the FDIC and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) jointly launched “Money Smart for Older Adults,” a financial education tool on how to prevent and respond to elder financial exploitation. To read or print tips from a consumer-oriented guide in this new resource, please visit the CFPB Web site at http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/201306_cfpb_msoa-participant-guide.pdf.
You also can find tips for seniors from the FBI at www.fbi.gov/scams-safety/fraud/seniors and general information from the Federal Trade Commission on many scams, including phone fraud, at www.consumer.ftc.gov/scam-alerts.
Each year, more and more people are becoming victims of identity theft. In fact, the incident rate is doubling every two to three years. Banks and government officials are encouraging individuals and businesses to take steps now to reduce exposure to these crimes, which cost the average identity theft victim 175 hours of personal time and over $1,500 to correct.
First, make it more difficult for criminals to get your Social Security number (SSN), your birth certificate and all financial account information. Treat these like valuable jewelry. If you are not using them, don't carry them around. Lock them up. If someone requests this information in person, email, mail or on a website, ask why. Be satisfied with the response before sharing this information.
If your driver's license number is your SSN, change it. If the medical insurance card in your wallet shows your SSN or that of another family member, ask the insurer to provide a card without the SSN. Alternatively, carry a photocopy of the insurance card with the last 4 digits masked out, along with a medical emergency contact number so a family member could provide the last four digits if necessary.
Given the number of financial statements, loan and credit offers arriving in mail boxes, people are interested in preventing the thefts that often lead to fraudulent acts should rent PO Boxes or have locking boxes at their homes or businesses to receive incoming mail. They also should be careful with outbound mail, being certain not to leave invoice payments in mailboxes where they could be pilfered. Drop payment mailings off at a US Postal Serivce office or in steel USPS postal boxes. Better yet, pay bills online using NorthSide Community Bank's secure website. Secure pages are identified as https://www..... instead of http://www....
If you pay bills online or purchase items from secured sites on the internet, it is best of use one credit card exclusively for web purchases. The credit card will provide greater personal protection against identity theft than a debit card, and by using one card for all online transactions, it will be easier to identify any fraudulent activity that may arise.
Monitor your monthly financial statements carefully, and at least once a year request your credit file from the three major credit reporting bureaus. If you find any questionable charges on any of these documents, immediately notify the financial institution(s) concerned, as well as the fraud departments at the credit bureaus.
Experian 888-397-3742 www.experian.com
Equifax 800-437-4619 www.equifax.com
TransUnion 800-916-8800 www.transunion.com
Next, file complaints with the Federal Trade Commission (877-438-4338; www.consumer.gov/idtheft ) and with local law enforcement, including police, postal inspectors and Secret Service. Informing these groups is vitally important, especially since the Identity Theft Clearinghouse reports 60% of 2003 victims did not notify law enforcement of the theft perpetrated against them.
Make no mistake, an identity thief can compromise the quality of your life. Be sure to close any accounts you know or suspect to have been tampered with, and use the ID Theft Affidavid available from the Federal Trace Commission when disputing new unauthorized accounts.
Also, the following 12 steps are crucial to reduce your risk of being an identity theft victim.
There are internet criminals who perpetrate identity fraud. We know that they accomplish this by sending out emails that attempt to trick victims into visiting fraudulent banking websites where login, account, or otherwise private information is requested.
Financial institutions NEVER send emails to customers requesting sensitive information.
Should you receive an email that you suspect might be from a phisher follow these common sense identifiers:
If there is any question about the emails integrity contact the bank.
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