How to Recognize and Prevent Financial Scams
Financial scams 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 identify a scam and protect your mother.
Recognizing a Scam
Spotting a scam or a con artist is not always easy. The most common scams 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 can do so through a financial protection service that will automatically monitor your mother's accounts, track suspicious activity and alert you and your mother if it detects a problem.
If 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 most common financial scams on their website. Also, your mother can 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 set aside the junk.
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, she can speak with her phone company about blocking tools. If she uses a smartphone, she may consider downloading apps that can help block unwanted calls. You may also want to get a copy of her credit report to ensure she is not a victim of identity theft.
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.
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.