Senior citizens and the elderly are targets for financial fraud and scams for several reasons including their age, assets and the assumption that they are easily fooled. Protecting my elderly loved one’s money is a high priority of mine because they have worked hard and long to reach retirement. In addition to having a power of attorney and having specific details about their finances, there are several steps to take to protect the money of an elderly person.
1.Never give account information or your social security number to anyone on the telephone or anyone who comes to your home uninvited. Many of our senior citizens grew up in a time before financial fraud and theft was a concern. They are not sophisticated when it comes to how financial scams work and they do not understand that someone on the telephone may have a great deal of personal information about them without actually being an employee of their bank. Educate your parent that they should never give their social security number or account number to anyone that calls them – – no matter who they say they are or how much personal information they have about them. They should take down the person’s name and telephone number to give to you – – if the person is legitimate then they will gladly give this to your parent and understand.
2. Have your elderly parent add you to their bank account. Senior citizens are easy targets for financial abuse because they are compassionate and want to help if at all possible. A sad, tragic story from a distant relative or a ‘friend of a friend’ can loosen their wallet very quickly. Senior citizens are also vulnerable to religious and non-profit scams that have absolutely nothing to do with the organizations they claim to represent. By adding your name to their bank account, you can access their account online to keep a close check on the checks they write. Furthermore, it is a good idea to keep a very low balance in their checking account to prevent them from writing a large check to a fraudulent person.
3. It is okay to be rude and hang up the phone or shut the door. My generation seems to have no problem with being rude; however, my parents feel it is rude to cut someone off on the phone. Talk to senior citizens and make sure they understand it is perfectly acceptable to hang up the telephone or shut the door after stating they are not interested – especially if the person is being persistent or aggressive. Furthermore, remind them they should never open the door unless they know the person – – home invasions are increasing especially for the elderly.
4. Educate about email, social networks, etc. My mother is just beginning to use email and my daughter convinced her to get a Facebook page; therefore, we had a long talk about what she should and should not share online. Yes, this sounds like common sense and many senior citizens may get offended and feel like they are being treated like children when you try and talk to them. However, think of how many times we post pictures of our children, their names, ages, our interests, what we do, etc. Financial scams use this information to convince seniors that they are legitimate. Educate your senior parents that they should never send financial information by email.
5.Use direct deposit for funds. Set up direct deposits for income rather than having checks mailed to your parents. Direct deposit will decrease the chance that they will have their checks stolen from their mail or lost before they can deposit them (sometimes they also may forget where they put their checks).
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has tips and resources for protecting the elderly and senior citizens from fraud. The FBI’s Common Fraud Schemes webpage is another source for you and your parents to review to help protect their money.