Dear Savvy Senior,
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
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 mom.
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 mom manage her finances, or at least monitor her accounts. Reviewing her 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 your mom’s accounts, track suspicious activity and alert you when it detects a problem.
If, however, your mom doesn’t want you looking at her financial records, there are other clues. For example: Is she getting a lot of junk mail for contests, free trips, and sweepstakes? Is she receiving calls from strangers offering awards or moneymaking deals? Also, notice if her spending habits have changed, if she has complained about being short of money lately or has suddenly become secretive or defensive about her finances. All these may be signs of trouble.
Protect your mom
The most effective way to help protect your mom is to alert her 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 her include reminding your mom to never give out her personal information, Social Security number or financial information unless she initiated the contact and knows the institution.
Also, see if your mom would be willing to let you sort her mail before she opens it, so you can weed out the junk. To reduce the junk mail and/or email she gets, 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 your mom’s Social Security number and date of birth.
You should also register your mom’s 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 her landline phone use Nomorobo (Nomorobo.com), and if she uses a smartphone, use the free app Hiya (Hiya.com). You should also get a free copy of her credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com to make sure she isn’t a victim of identity theft.
If you suspect your mom has gotten scammed, report it to her local police, her bank (if money has been taken from her account) and her 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 her 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.