Fraudsters are increasingly targeting older Americans. How do you protect aging parents and yourself from falling for common scams and resulting financial losses?
Why is it important to be aware of issues related to money and aging?
As we age, much like in baseball where pitchers lose their fastball, we can lose our mental fastball. Moreover, discussing money with family members and even advisors can be uncomfortable. This combination of factors can make aging individuals particularly vulnerable to falling prey to abusers.
What are some common scams targeting aging individuals?
Scammers may use the heightened emotions related to intimacy, fear, financial windfall, or urgency to convince individuals to send them money.
Here are some of the most common scams and ways to avoid them:
Fraudsters often target older individuals whose partner has died. This may include those who lack daily interaction with friends and family. They may be lonely, and someone reaches out to them online.
The person who has connected with them says all the right things. The older individual falls in love, having never met the person with whom they believe they are in a romantic relationship. Then there’s a request for money, and, unfortunately, thousands of dollars later, they realize that the person they have met online is not the love of their life.
To avoid this scam: If you begin an online relationship, never send the person money. If you want to send the person a gift, send flowers or something personal. If you decide to meet them in person, pick a public setting.
The target gets a desperate phone call. The caller doesn’t even sound like the grandchild, but they say they were in an accident and they need money right now. And they may say, “Oh, Grandma, only you can help me. Please don’t tell Mom or Dad; they would be so disappointed in me.” They send money only to find that they have been duped.
To avoid this scam: Consider setting up a family password. Imagine you get the call. It’s your grandson who’s been in an accident. You say, “Oh, Billy, that sounds terrible. What’s the password?” The simple act of asking for the password will be enough to encourage the scammer to hang up. And if it’s a real emergency, the grandchild will know how to answer.
Scammers impersonate legitimate companies, such as your bank, your health care provider, or the IRS. For example, the caller may say you have not paid your federal taxes or you’ve missed a jury duty court date and marshals or government agents will be at your door if you don’t immediately send money now.
To avoid this scam: Do not answer unsolicited emails, texts, or calls. Add all important contacts, such as your banker, financial advisor, and health care provider, to the contact list on your phone.
If you receive an unsolicited call from someone who claims that they are calling you from your bank or credit card company, hang up and call the number on your bank statement or credit card to determine if the call is legitimate.
Tech support scam
In this scenario, a scammer posing as a technical support representative calls and claims there is an issue with your computer. For example, your software is outdated or you need to confirm your identity. They ask for remote access to resolve the issue. Once you provide access, the scammer may request payment for technical assistance, install malicious software, change settings to leave your computer vulnerable, or steal your financial information.
To avoid this scam: Never give any unsolicited caller access to your computer. Hang up, and if you have questions, call your service provider.
How can you help protect potential victims and yourself?
People who are living alone in their later years, or those who do not have trusted individuals nearby, are especially vulnerable to these scams. When someone doesn’t feel they are at risk, they are unlikely to take precautions. If you have aging relatives, establishing regular contact may give them someone to confide in. You also may want to encourage them to stay active in their community.
Listing a trusted contact who can act as a financial advocate on brokerage and bank accounts offers another layer of protection. If a financial advisor or banker sees a trend in a client’s account that looks troubling, they can call the contact and say, “Something is happening with your dad. Maybe you need to check in on him.”
Discussing these options with elderly relatives, and even considering them yourself, is a good way to begin longevity planning. As part of this process, you may also consider discussing the need to create a financial inventory to keep track of income, savings, investments, credit cards, debts, and monetary items. This should include what financial obligations are owed on a regular basis.
Where should someone who needs help turn first?
If you or an elderly relative have fallen victim to one of these scams, consider reporting it to law enforcement, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC.gov), the credit bureaus, and your financial institutions.
You also should inform your financial professionals or the financial professionals of the victim — and talk to them ahead of time to discuss ways to protect yourself and loved ones. Fraudsters are after your money, so adding a set of protective checks and balances to your life can help deter them.