Avoiding Financial Abuse and Identity Theft for Seniors

September 29, 2013 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ Senior Financial Issues

Senior financial troubles


Financial exploitation of the elderly is becoming an all too familiar problem.  Seniors are increasingly becoming victims of identity theft, scams and fraud as many are too trusting of phone solicitors and at times unscrupulous caretakers.  The complexities of modern society with computer and smart phone access to bank accounts adds to this dilemma.  Many seniors are simply not prepared to deal with the increased level of schemes from sophisticated and advantageous scam artists.  As some seniors develop memory issues such as Alzheimer’s or dementia they become even more vulnerable.

According to a 2013 report by the Federal Trade Commission, people 50 years and older are responsible for 36 percent of the complaints of fraudulent activity in our society.  This is a disturbing trend and one that warrants education and caution on the part of the elderly’s loved ones.

Some of the common areas of fraud and scams involve governmental benefits such as Social Security, SSI, and even tax refunds.  Additionally, identity theft and medical related scams are prevalent.   While the majority of senior care facilities are careful, dependable and conscientious, some adult foster homes, nursing homes, assisted living, convalescent and long-term care facilities have been in the news lately and can be ripe environments for abuse to occur.  The elderly’s children, grandchildren or otherwise responsible party should be aware of the potential for exploitation regarding financial matters and closely monitor their loved ones money matters.

Even if your parents or grandparents are living on their own, seniors may be more likely to quickly and without hesitation surrender a Social Security or credit card number to an unscrupulous individual in a phone scam, door-to-door, email or other online scheme.

There are numerous scams that specifically target seniors in Oregon and across the country. With identity theft becoming one of the largest growing crimes in American, the elderly’s loved ones should regularly make a habit of reminding their relatives of the dangers of giving out any kind of personal information to individuals over the phone or in a care facility.

Some elderly individuals are lonely, bored and longing for attention.  Scam artists know this and tend to exploit these situations to their own good.  Some elderly individuals may not be able to properly describe or possibly don’t remember the details of a situation where they were taken advantage of.  While others are embarrassed to tell their children a situation where they have been exploited.

There are certain organizations that are quasi-legitimate that run rescue operations for animals or other seemingly admirable concerns.  These bombard seniors with ongoing mailings requesting financial support or entry in regular sweepstakes contests that promise big financial rewards.  While operating within the law, many of these groups maintain questionable practices, minimal accountability of donations and seem to unreasonably request money on a regular basis from seniors who may have a big heart for animals or another seemingly worthy issue.

Below are a few basic guidelines for seniors and their family members to help protect their financial resources. 

Assign a trusted and responsible family member to monitor and handle an elderly persons finances.  Unfortunately, some situations of financial fraud occur within a family. Family fraudulent situations occur more often than people think.  Elderly family members can represent an easy target to a struggling or financially troubled family member.  The person assigned to handling the finances of an elderly family member should be of high trust and reputation and willing to be accountable to the rest of the family for their handling of an elderly family members finances.

Get your elderly family member a paper shredder and teach them how to use it.  The elderly tend to collect and save mail and paperwork that may contain social security numbers, bank account numbers or other important information.  This content is prime information for identity thieves.  Getting your parents a paper shredder and teaching them to use it, along with regularly checking that they are indeed shredding their papers, could prevent a future financial exploitation situation.

Never give out personal information to a stranger whether in person, by mail, phone or online.  Many seniors are willing to offer information to strangers they meet in public, that come to their door, call on the phone, or in mailings or online communication.  Nobody requesting personal identifiable information should be entertained unless the individual being called is absolutely sure they know the person calling.  Scam artists are great at impersonating a financial institution and sounding entirely legitimate. Most banks and financial institutions will not call asking for personal information.  They already have your personal information on file if you maintain an account with them.  If you or your loved one receives a call, always insist on calling back a bank or financial institution at a known business number to ask if they have called for any information.  Once again, never give it out directly to someone who called claiming to be a financial institution. They could be anybody.

Never carry a Social Security or Medicare card. While it seems perfectly natural to carry one of these cards for medical emergency purposes, having and elderly person’s complete Social Security number so readily available, opens up an easy path of abuse.  Copies of these cards can be carried in case of a medical emergency with all but the last four numbers blacked out.

For seniors active on the computer, install and update security/virus protection software and use strong passwords.  If your elderly family member is active online, make it your duty to ensure they are adequately protected with the latest and best online security software and that their computers are updated with the latest operating system updates and patches.  Cyber security is essential nowadays and many seniors don’t understand the complexities of keeping a computer safe and up to date.

Freezing an elderly’s credit may offer the most protection.  This may seem extreme or unnecessary but for the elderly who has issues with dementia and no longer needs to extent their credit or who is in an assisted care situation where they are vulnerable to identity theft, this may offer the most protection.

The Oregon Bankers Association offers a free downloadable guide about elder abuse called Preventing Elder Financial Exploitation.  This guide details comprehensive ways to minimize the potential for your parents or grandparents becoming victims of a scam. You can download it at this link for free.