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Wednesday October 17, 2018

Savvy Living

Savvy Senior

How to Recognize and Prevent Financial Scams

Can you provide some tips on how to protect seniors from financial scams? My 76-year-old aunt was recently swindled out of $25,000 and I want to make sure my own mother is protected.

Financial scams that target the elderly continue to be a huge problem in the U.S. In fact, it is estimated that one in five Americans over age 65 are scammed out of roughly $36 billion every year. Here are some tips that can help you spot a scam and protect your mother.

Recognizing a Scam

Spotting a scam or a con artist is not always easy. The most common scams targeting seniors today come in the form of tricky and deceitful telemarketing calls, internet scams, free-lunch seminars selling dubious financial products and endless junk mail peddling free vacation packages, sweepstakes, phony charity fundraisers and more. In addition, there is the ongoing problem of identity theft, Medicare and Social Security fraud, door-to-door scams and credit card theft.

To guard against a scam, you may want to help your mother manage her finances or at least monitor her accounts. Reviewing her financial statements each month can alert you to questionable checks, credit card charges or large withdrawals. You could also consider a service like EverSafe, which will automatically monitor your mother's accounts, track suspicious activity and alert you and your mother if it detects a problem.

If, however, your mother does not want you looking at her financial records, there are other things to watch for that might indicate that she is being targeted by a scammer. For example: Is she getting a lot of junk mail for contests, free trips and sweepstakes? Is she receiving calls from strangers offering awards or moneymaking deals? Also, be aware if her spending habits have changed or she has complained about being short of money lately. All these things may be signs that she is being targeted.

Protect Your Mom

The most effective way to help protect your mother is to alert her to the different types of scams going on today. To help you with this, the National Council on Aging maintains a list of the "Top 10 Financial Scams Targeting Seniors" at NCOA.org/economic-security/money-management/. Also see AARP's Fraud Watch Network at AARP.org/money/scams-fraud and sign up to receive free scam alert emails from the Federal Trade Commission at FTC.gov/scams.

In addition, you should remind your mother to never give out her personal information, Social Security number or financial information unless she initiated the contact and knows the institution. Also, see if your mother would be willing to let you sort her mail before she opens it, so you can weed out the junk. To reduce the junk mail and/or email she gets, use the Direct Marketing Association consumer opt-out service at DMAchoice.org. To stop credit card and insurance offers, use the Consumer Credit Reporting Industry opt-out service at OptOutPrescreen.com or call 888-567-8688.

You should also register your mother's home and cell phone numbers on the National Do Not Call Registry (DoNotCall.gov, 888-382-1222) to reduce telemarketing calls. To stop robocall scams on her landline phone, check out Nomorobo, and if she uses a smartphone, she may want to install Hiya, a free app that allows users to block callers. You may also want to get a free copy of her credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com to make sure she is not a victim of identity theft.

Report It

If you suspect your mother has been scammed, report it to her local police, her bank (if money has been taken from her account) and her state's Adult Protective Services agency that investigates reports of elderly financial abuse. Call the Eldercare Locator at 800-677-1116 to obtain the agency contact number in her area.

Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living" book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.

Published October 12, 2018
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