Sadly, seniors are often the target of scams and fraud. Why? There are four basic reasons: they have money, they are trusting, they can be technology challenged, and cognitive impairment can be an issue. However, there are ways to protect yourself from being swindled. As a Better Business Bureau handout advises: Be Wise, Be Informed and Be Empowered.
Be wary of stranger danger. Never provide financial or personal information in response to unsolicited phone calls, emails or text messages, or when prompted to do so by a website. If someone you don't know knocks on your door and wants to sell you something, don’t let them in the house.
Be alert to home improvement solicitations by someone “working in the neighborhood.” If you're interested in the product or service, take a card or brochure, and tell them you will follow up yourself. Resist high pressure sales tactics and offers that seem too good to be true. Family, friends and the Better Business Bureau can help you determine if their offer fits your needs at a fair price. Read contracts carefully. Ask for start and completion times in writing. Advance payments for remodeling and repairs should raise red flags.
Take care when using your smartphone or computer. Protect your devises with suitable up-to-date antivirus software. Consider using a free malware removal tool like Malwarebytes on a regular basis. If in doubt, don’t open a file or click on a link. Even if an email is from a friend, be cautious about links or attachments. Email accounts can be hijacked by others to send viruses or other malware which can steal contact lists and send emails that looks like it came from a trusted source (spoofing).
Use caution when shopping online. Use a credit card and not a debit card so your responsibility for losses is reduced. When visiting websites, look for the https:// prefix. Data is encrypted on these sites and should be more secure. Fake websites for reputable companies abound so look closely. Be wary of phone calls, emails, or websites that claim your computer has problems and promise to fix them remotely. This is a means to hijack your computer and/or your identity. If a pop-up or web page seems odd or unfamiliar, close the browser and try again.
Be suspicious of calls from people claiming to work for your insurer, the government, or a medical supplies company. Never give them your social security number or financial information. Steer clear of investments promising big returns or requiring money sent in advance. Consult with a trusted professional for investment advice and do homework on the advisor and the investment. Be cautious about buying annuities - you may find you've been sold a product that generated big fees for your advisor but was not suitable for you.
Charitable solicitations are rife with problems. Some legitimate charities (such as the Wounded Warrior Project) spend a large portion of your donation on administrative costs and marketing. Some “fake” charities have names that are similar to real charities, and some professional fundraisers take a large cut from money they raise. The Minnesota Attorney General’s office has helpful information online, and recommends smartgivers.org a non-profit that vets charities.
The saddest scams are those perpetrated by family members or trusted advisors. If a family member is unable to manage their finances, have someone other than the manager reviews the accounts periodically to be sure money is being spent properly. Managing another person's finances is often difficult and can be a lot of work. While we don’t want to deter people from assuming this responsibility by giving them burdensome accounting and reporting challenges, we do want to make sure it is done properly. Be aware that there are laws to protect both physically and financially vulnerable adults.
More information: The Better Business Bureau (bbb.org) and the Minnesota Attorney General (ag.state.mn.us) provide resources to help identify and avoid scams. They can also help you recover losses. They recognize you worked too hard to lose your savings to con artists.
EPPIA is a networking group whose members are committed to the welfare of seniors in our community. EPPIA members meet to learn, exchange information and discuss issues in the field of aging. For more information on EPPIA and local senior resources, please visit our website at www.edenprairieaging.org