While seniors are often targeted by scammers, there are ways you can protect yourself and those you care about.
New fraud schemes emerge constantly and the scammers are relentlessly creative. Seniors may get official-sounding e-mails seeking a fee for a bogus service or collecting an “inheritance.” Homeowners are targeted with phony service calls. In one brazen scam, a criminal posing as a grandchild asks the senior to wire money to get the grandchild out of a jam.
In some cases, caregivers and family members may try to take advantage of a senior’s dependence and ask the senior to sign papers that shift control to the caregiver, or simply forge the senior’s signature.
Fortunately, seniors can understand the risks and protect themselves. Here are a few helpful tips.
• Beware of “robocalls”; that is, a computerized message, instead of a person on the phone.
• If anyone calls or e-mails you offering an opportunity to collect a prize by paying an up-front fee, remember: If it sounds too good to be true, it is.
• Keep your Social Security number, credit card numbers, account PINs and other personal information to yourself. Your bank and other companies you do business with won’t call you to ask you to “confirm” this information.
• Don’t be pressured. If you feel pressured to make a decision or purchase, or if you are unsure to whom you are talking, just say “no” and hang up.
• Open your door only if you recognize the person there.
• Never sign any document you don’t fully understand. If in doubt, ask a trusted friend, family member or adviser. Never sign blank checks or forms.
• Keep a close eye on bank statements, credit card bills and invoices to spot any suspicious activity that could indicate identity theft. Requesting a free copy of your credit report annually (at www.annualcreditreport.com) is a good way to spot potential problems.
• Shred your old bills and paperwork to make sure your personal information can’t be accessed by “dumpster diving” thieves. Make sure your mailbox is secure.
• For home repair projects, always get a second estimate and call the companies’ references. Never pay for the work in advance—unscrupulous contractors may take the money and run.
• Never use an untraceable wire service to transfer money. If you have to wire money, manage the transfer with your bank and make sure it can trace the recipient.
Remain vigilant. If you think you or a loved one has been the target of elder fraud, contact the state’s Department of Consumer Protection to report the abuse. For more information, visit the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse.