Barely a day goes by without reading stories like this about seniors being taken advantage of by scammers. But, you and your loved ones don’t have to be victimized this way.
Here are some general tips to help safeguard your elder loved ones:
Designate a financial “advocate” – Find someone – a spouse, a child, or a sibling – whom the senior trusts implicitly, and consult with them on significant financial matters. You can additionally add that person to major accounts, or share log-in information with them. This will allow the trusted family member to both monitor account activity, and make it easier to use those resources for the good of the care recipient. Younger, more tech-savvy people are often better at spotting fraud patterns than their elders and can help cut off scammers or identify self-destructive actions taken by the senior.
Make a will, and have it updated every 2-3 years – Thinking about a will is never particularly pleasant, but it’s a necessary task. Knowing their affairs will be in order when they pass away can be a tremendous stress reliever for seniors. Gather up all major assets – real estate, investments, pensions, life insurance policies, etc. – and make sure they are included in the will. You will eventually need a lawyer for a will, and your state or provincial Bar Association can help direct you to a trusted estate attorney.
Lock their credit – A senior having their bank account drained by a scammer can be awful, but having their credit ruined by identity thieves can be catastrophic. Compromised credit history can not only impact their ability to pay bills, but it can also prevent them from qualifying for aid and assistance programs, potentially including Medicare. A trusted family member should help the senior contact the three major credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion – and arrange to have a lock placed on their credit. This will prevent access to their credit history and will prevent the opening of new credit cards, loans, bank & investment accounts while the lock is in place. The lock can only be removed via a password or other identifying information, which makes it much more difficult for scammers.
Review subscriptions and other recurring charges – This probably holds true for all of us, but it’s particularly true for seniors. Go through all credit cards & bank statements for recurring expenses. Things like magazine & newspaper subscriptions, club dues, out of date service contracts, auto-renewing extended warranties, and more small recurring charges can add up to a pretty penny. Find out which are still useful, and spend an afternoon canceling the rest.
Have a frank conversation about scam avoidance – As we age, our ability to “sniff out” scams and fraud often begins to fail. Tricks and ploys which wouldn’t have made a dent in their earlier years suddenly begin to succeed. At this point, the financial advocate or other loved ones need to step in and have a conversation about ways to avoid these pitfalls. These include:
- Do not buy anything from people who call or come to the door. No matter how good they make a deal look, cold-callers & door-to-door salespeople are all too frequently unethical or downright criminal.
- Never, ever buy gift cards for any reason. All too many scams now revolve around the purchasing of gift cards, mainly because the cards are easily transferrable and non-refundable or disputable. By refusing to buy any gift cards, they can protect themselves against many of the most common and damaging scams in practice today.
- Make sure their computers, if they use them, have modern anti-virus and anti-malware programs active & updated.
- Set up a password with the family. Pick a random word out of the dictionary – or even better, a word which has meaning to the senior – and tells it to close family, and only close family. Write the password somewhere that casual visitors or aides won’t see it. If a family member really does need help, they can supply the password. If they don’t, you know that call or message isn’t genuine.
You cannot protect someone from all scams, but these are just a few simple actions that can help protect your loved ones against the fraudsters out there.