One of the most vulnerable groups in society is our senior citizen population. Many of our family members are living longer and more independently than ever before, and many of them are doing so in isolation and lack the proper financial knowledge to protect their money (or credit cards) from criminals. That’s why it’s so important for their loved ones to be involved in helping to oversee their personal finances.
Taking the initiative to introduce the subject can be difficult, and you should never force your involvement unless you’ve been given permission by the individual or by a court of law. Money is the source of more family conflicts than any other issue, so the importance of cooperation, if at all possible, can’t be overstated.
Avoiding Exploitation of the Elderly
Seniors are often the target of criminals because of their trusting nature and their willingness to let fraud go unreported. They often find it hard to say no for fear of appearing rude, and if they’re taken advantage of they may not let anyone know about it out of embarrassment or pride. Financially they’re also more likely to have a large nest egg and better credit; the perfect target for scam artists and thieves.
Scams run the gamut from phone calls requesting credit card account numbers and passwords, to fake emails warning of a compromised credit card. Once the thief has enough information they can go on a spending spree knowing that crime will likely go unreported.
Education is the most effective step in preventing fraud. Although you’re likely to get a negative response if you questions someone’s ability to recognize a potential scam, it’s still important to talk about it. Here are some helpful tips to assist senior citizens:
- Email Appeals – Never respond to ANY email about your credit card, bank or other financial accounts. If you have questions, call the customer service number found on the monthly statement or visit a local branch.
- Phone Solicitations – The same advice for emails applies to phone calls. NEVER respond no matter how appealing the product may sound. Scammers work the same fraud over the phone to get consumers to divulge their account information and then use it to steal their assets.
The Biggest Potential Threats to Seniors
Caregivers, whether visiting in the home or on staff at a nursing care facility, provide peace of mind to families who can’t be there 24/7 for their aging family members. While most are honest, skilled and compassionate individuals, always be wary of unscrupulous caregivers who are looking to take advantage of senior citizens.
For seniors who live in an assisted living center who are unable to make good financial decisions on their own, all mail should be forwarded to a post box or to a responsible family member. Regularly review their credit report for fraudulent activity and take immediate action if any is found. Visit frequently and shred accumulated mail. Review bank and credit card accounts together, either by examining monthly statements or by reviewing their accounts online. Opting out of paper statements will eliminate one easy way thieves can access a senior’s account information.
One of the saddest ways a senior citizen is exploited is by their own family members. Addiction issues, gambling troubles or financial difficulties are red flags for the potential of exploitation. Money problems can often be used to justify wrong doing when a senior has the financial means to help a bad situation.
Be Actively Involved & Protect Your Family
Be sure to advertise the focused attention on a senior’s financial accounts to ward off any potential thieves. It’s important for someone, preferably a family member, to be willing to oversee the accounts of those who have spent years of hard work saving for a secure retirement. Keep on top of their credit card accounts; check out their mail for charitable giving that may be in excess and get to know any new friends or caregivers. Consider enrolling in a credit monitoring service. And most importantly, don’t assume that everyone has the best intentions.