5 Ways to Defend Against Aging Parents Financial Scams and Fraud
Financial scams, particularly online, have gotten more sophisticated than ever, putting you and your aging parents at risk.
Here are five easy steps you can take to safeguard yourself and the people you love.
1. Become your parents’ active financial partner.
Go with your parents to their bank and get them to add your name as an account custodian so you too will receive statements and can monitor their accounts for unusual activity. If they haven’t already done so, set up online banking to avoid putting checks in the mail, where they could be intercepted. Sign your parents up for direct deposit for any benefit checks they receive and help them order their credit reports at least once a year.
Encourage them to reach out to you before they make an online purchase or a major investment. Ask to review any contracts, purchasing agreements, or other written materials they receive before they share their payment information with any sellers, especially if they didn’t initiate the purchase.
2. Limit solicitations by opting out.
Sign your parents up for the Federal Trade Commission’s “Do Not Call” list. This reduces the risk of unwanted or suspicious calls. In addition, sign them for the Email Preference Service with the Direct Marketing Association (DMA). This can reduce the risk of unsolicited or fraudulent emails.
3. Be a vigilant shredder.
Encourage your parents to shred documents that contain personal information, including Social Security numbers, bank account numbers, and credit card information. Make sure to include unused credit card offers too. If they have an excessive number of documents to shred, check whether your local government sponsors shredding days. (Here is one way to locate these opportunities.)
4. Educate your parents.
Remind your parents of one of the most important lessons they taught you: don’t talk to strangers. Fraud is frequently committed by thieves with enough information to sound credible.
- If someone you don’t know calls, don’t share any personal details over the phone. If you’re in doubt about whether a caller is legitimate, hang up, look up the organization that called, and call back on a number listed with a reputable source.
- Don’t buy anything from an unsolicited call, email, letter, or visit.
- If a caller says you’ve won a contest or lottery that you haven’t heard of before, or if you have to pay a fee to claim a free prize, hang up immediately.
- Don’t give in to pressure to make an immediate decision about buying something.
- Don’t buy from a company you don’t know. Check them out with your local consumer protection agency, Better Business Bureau, or state attorney general’s office.
- Don’t sign anything that you don’t understand.
- Don’t offer financial help to someone who calls and says they’re your friend or relative until you confirm that the request is genuine.
- Don’t pay for major purchases or services in cash. Write a check or use a credit card to create a paper trail.
- Don’t sign blank insurance forms or blank forms of any kind.
- The government will never call you and ask you to pay your taxes or threaten to throw you in jail. If someone calls and claims to be from the IRS, hang up and call the IRS directly at 1-800-829-1040.
- Tell unannounced door-to-door solicitors or callers that you don’t give to charities or buy from businesses that you don’t know.
- Before hiring anyone to do any work around your home or on your behalf, check their credentials and ask for a list of references.
- If people you don’t know well (such as contractors or repairmen) are visiting your home, lock up your purse, wallet, checkbook, and anything that contains your personal information, including account statements.
- Get the name, company, address, phone number, and business license number of any salespeople who try to do business with you.
- Pay only after services are delivered.
- Don’t share control over your computer with anyone unless you initiated the call.
- Keep your computer’s antivirus software and security patches up to date.
- Hang up the phone immediately if a stranger’s call makes you uncomfortable.
- Change your account passwords frequently and store them in a place that is secure.
5. Report suspected fraud immediately.
If you or your parents experience attempted or actual fraud or encounter any other suspicious behavior, immediately report it to your local, state, or federal law enforcement agencies. If any bank account or credit card information was shared, call the bank or card issuer immediately to cancel any debit or credit cards linked to the account and reset any personal identification numbers and account passwords.
Following these five steps can help avoid costly financial scams and protect not only personal information, but hard-earned nest eggs.