Today’s scammers, fraudsters and con artists are relentless. These evil thieves and tricksters never tire of coming up with ways to separate you from your account numbers, your personal identification, and ultimately your cash. Seniors, as we’re aware by now, tend to be tragically susceptible to scams and frauds, as the perpetrators know well: some sources peg the total annual loss from senior fraud at $3 billion, but others say the actual losses are many times higher. Behind every loss is a painful story.
This Kiplinger article from a year ago still offers a timely reminder of the need to be vigilant. Written by investment adviser Pam Krueger, the article lists several steps recommended by fraud experts that you or a loved one can take to keep from becoming another statistic.
New Frauds and Scams Can Seem Overwhelming
Krueger begins, “Protecting your money has come a long way since the days when you bought groceries with a check that had your name, birthdate, Social Security number and address printed in the top left corner. If you remember that era, you might feel overwhelmed by today’s online and digital financial systems.”
Thanks in part to persistent inflation, scammers are becoming bolder, more desperate, and increasingly sophisticated in their tactics. Krueger writes, “A recent study by AARP found that one in five adults over age 50 knows a family member or loved one who’s lost money to a scam. The Federal Trade Commission reported 96,000 victims over the age of 60 just in the first quarter of [last] year, along with losses of $300 million.”
Krueger provides the following tips for aging adults, as well as adult children trying to look out for their aging parents, to protect themselves from this summer’s inevitable financial scams.
Steps You Can Take on Your Own and With Your Adviser
Krueger advises that your first step should be to name a trusted contact for your financial accounts. She’s not alone: experts in the field, from the U.S. Department of Justice to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, all agree that it’s a wise move.
“A trusted contact is a person that you authorize your bank or brokerage firm to notify in limited circumstances,” she writes, “such as if your broker has trouble reaching you or has a reasonable belief that your account may be exposed to possible financial exploitation.” She reiterates that the trusted contact’s authority is limited. “Adding the name of your trusted contacts on your bank or brokerage accounts does not give them authority to make decisions on your behalf; they function as a ‘first alert’ for financial institutions to get in contact with you when suspected fraud or other issues threaten to affect your finances.”
The best way to protect yourself from fraud, according to Krueger, is to monitor your accounts as thoroughly as possible. Naming a trusted contact can make this task much, much easier.
“User-friendly apps like Carefull, Trustworthy and LifeLock can then function like a financial smoke alarm,” Krueger writes. “Using these apps, especially in conjunction with a fiduciary financial adviser, makes it easier to collect your important information, store it in one place, and automatically set up alerts whenever there are threats.“
Krueger adds that if you work with a fiduciary financial advisor, they may already partner with an app like Carefull, so it is worth asking if they offer such a partnership, what that partnership entails, and how it works.
Nine Tips to Avoid Becoming a Victim
The following are Krueger’s nine tips to proactively avoid being scammed.
1. Make a list of all your trusted contacts: It’s important to have this information handy so that you can access it easily. Krueger writes, “Remember, a trusted contact doesn’t have access to your money or your account info or know the personal details of your accounts. What they do have access to is you – and they can step in before you become the casualty of a con.”
2. Make sure your fiduciary financial adviser is in touch with your trusted contacts: If you are your financial advisor’s only contact, that’s a recipe for potential problems. Your financial adviser should be able to reach family members or friends who are involved with your finances. “Doing so allows you to build a circle of support before you have any issues,” Krueger writes. “Otherwise, people you don’t trust might try to fill those support roles and take advantage of you. If your adviser knows who to contact – in conjunction with you – when something is amiss, you’ve built a crack team to fight back.”
3. Look for red flags: Krueger urges, “Resist the urge to click on links in suspicious emails or text messages or to answer calls from callers you don’t know. If strangers leave a message, listen for anything that causes the emotions of fear or excitement – this technique waves a bright red flag telling you to stop. If you buddy up with an adult child, astute friend or other person you trust, you’ll be one step ahead of the scammers.”
She adds, “In truth, it’s the rare phone call, email or text that requires an immediate answer, so if you are asked to part with money or important personal data on one of those communications, stop the interaction and get in touch with one of your trusted contacts.”
4. Sign up for scam alerts: Let technology keep a sharp eye out on your behalf. “Plenty of organizations exist to track and promulgate information about the scams that are making the rounds,” Krueger writes. “Places like AARP’s Fraud Watch Network and the Better Business Bureau let you sign up for free. Your credit card company, brokerage and bank will also send alerts if you set your accounts up that way.”
5. Don’t answer the phone: The phone seems to be the scammer’s favorite tool, because the sound of a ringing phone is tough to ignore, especially when the phone number looks familiar or local. Krueger warns, “Con artists have figured out how to configure their phone numbers to appear familiar to you to increase your chances of picking up.” Screen your phone calls with a voicemail system that lets you hear the voice of a loved one before picking up the call.
She adds, “Know that if a loved one is trying to reach you in an emergency, they will probably text you first. If they call and you don’t answer, they’ll leave a voicemail letting you know they are in trouble, so you can swing into action to help. Few people under 35 call others on the phone, so grandchildren and great-grandchildren are unlikely to ring you up.”
6. Realize that no financial decisions need to be immediate: “Financial decisions never need to be made in a hurry,” Krueger writes. “The minute you feel pressured to decide on something fast is the exact time to end the interaction. Every reputable organization will give you a phone number or other contact method for you to call them back later. If they can’t, they are not legitimate.”
7. Your personal information is, well, personal: “The worst that can happen when you refuse to give your Social Security number or your birth date is that the app you are entering it into will prevent you from moving forward,” Krueger explains. “In that case, you can make the conscious decision to proceed or to exit. However, in spontaneous conversations with unsolicited financial sellers or other entities, if they ask for personal information, say no or tell them you’ll call them back or enter the data later. Then check with a trusted contact to make sure the offer is kosher.”
8. Do online research: It’s perfectly acceptable—and very wise—to research a phone number, organization, or anything else that seems suspicious. “Type the phone number right into the search bar [of Google], asking ‘Is 999-999-9999 a scam?’” Krueger suggests. “You can put the caller on speaker and do the research right there on your phone while they deliver their high-pressure sales talk. Then the info you need will be at your fingertips, and you can decide to move forward if it’s legit or to summarily end the call if not.” (Better still, don’t answer at all.)
9. Maintain higher vigilance on vacation: “Summer travel opens the door to even more places you can be conned,” Krueger writes. “Your residence is vacant for a week or more. You’re staying in unfamiliar places. Renting from Airbnb puts you in the personal home of an amateur landlord. Flying, driving and cruising up the ante for losing personal documents. During this time, be even more careful in financial interactions.”
But Krueger ends on a hopeful note: “Even the savviest consumers sometimes make mistakes. Taking precautions will go a long way toward providing some peace of mind knowing you’re protecting yourself and your family.”
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(originally reported at www.kiplinger.com)