How to Avoid a Summer of Scams – Expert Tips to Help Aging Parents
Financial professionals share their top tips to help avoid becoming a statistic in a summertime wave of identity theft, account hacks and telemarketing fraud.
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.
Being paper-free offers convenience that comes at a cost – elaborate scams that steal your money, creditworthiness, financial safety and good name. If you’re older, you might feel less tech-savvy and find these scams alarming and hard to understand. If you’re an adult child looking out for an aging parent, it can be hard to help your loved ones move about in an increasingly complex web of financial scams.
This summer, here are tips to keep you and your aging parents protected as financial scams heat up.
New Ways to Stay Ahead of New Scams
As we head into a period when blistering inflation pressures the pocketbooks of global consumers, scammers are more desperate than ever to figure out how to make a quick buck at your expense. As these schemes evolve and scam artists become more sophisticated, the number of victims increases.
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 this year, along with losses of $300 million.
Steps You Can Take on Your Own and With Your Adviser
A first step is to consider naming a trusted contact for your financial accounts. A trusted contact is a person that you authorize your bank or brokerage firm to notify in limited circumstances, such as if your broker has trouble reaching you or has a reasonable belief that your account may be exposed to possible financial exploitation. 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.
It’s not often that government agencies agree on something, but when it comes to naming a trusted contact for your financial accounts, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the U.S. Department of Justice, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and FINRA recommend people take this action.
Protecting yourself — and your aging parents — means staying on top of all the activity in all accounts. For older people, constantly monitoring their financial details can be a challenge. Adding another point of contact to accounts and signing up for digital alerts means a second set of watchful eyes. User-friendly apps like Carefull, Trustworthy and LifeLock can then function like a financial smoke alarm. 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.
If you work with a fiduciary financial adviser, you may find that they already partner with or recommend using a document and fraud monitoring application like Carefull, a service that individuals and adviser firms can use to organize and protect money, credit and identity. With a tool like that, your adviser and you know your financial information and identity are safe because they are continually monitored. For example, if someone tries to open a bank account in your name or buys suspicious items with your credit card, Carefull sends an alert to your adviser so that the account can be closed, the money refunded back to you, and the fraud is stopped in its tracks.
9 Tips to Avoid Becoming a Victim
Here are nine things you can do to fight broadening threats to the safety of your money.
1. Make a list of all your trusted contacts
A trusted contact is someone you formally name at your bank or other financial institution who can reach you if something urgent comes up. 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
Does your adviser have relationships with (or at least know who and how to reach) the children or other 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. 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
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.
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
The more you know, the better. Plenty of organizations exist to track and promulgate information about the scams that are making the rounds. 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
Scammers hook many victims by calling them on the phone. It’s hard not to answer when the phone rings, especially when the area code and number are local. Con artists have figured out how to configure their phone numbers to appear familiar to you to increase your chances of picking up.
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
Few interactions require immediacy. Driving, jumping back from a fire, or giving CPR are examples of the infrequent instances when you need to act quickly. Financial decisions never need to be made in a hurry. 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
You don’t have to give out information if you don’t want to. 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. 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
If you’re not sure about a place that’s trying sell you something or about a phone number that’s unfamiliar, fire up Google and do a search. Type the phone number right into the search bar, asking “Is 999-999-9999 a scam?” 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.
9. Maintain higher vigilance on vacation
Summer travel opens the door to even more places you can be conned. 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.
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.
About the Author
With more than 25 years in investor advocacy, Pam Krueger is the founder and CEO of Wealthramp, an SEC-registered adviser matching platform that connects consumers with rigorously vetted and qualified fee-only financial advisers. She is also the creator and co-host of the award-winning MoneyTrack investor-education TV series, seen nationally on PBS, and Friends Talk Money podcast.