Protecting the Elderly From Financial Abuse

You, or someone you know, could become the victim of a growing crime in America — financial abuse of older Americans.  Seniors are increasingly becoming targets for financial abuse.  As people over 50 years old control over 70 percent of the nation’s wealth, fraudsters are using new tactics to take advantage of retiring baby boomers and the growing number of older Americans. Senior financial abuse is estimated to have cost victims at least $2.9 billion last year alone.

What Is Elder Financial Abuse?

It’s a crime that deprives older adults of their resources and ultimately their independence. Anyone who sees signs of theft, fraud, misuse of a person’s assets or credit, or use of undue influence to gain control of an older person’s money or property should be on the alert. Those are signs of possible exploitation.  Older Americans that may have disabilities or rely on others for help can be susceptible to scams and other fraud.   Advances in technology can also make it difficult for seniors to know who to trust and what’s safe.

Despite these threats, taking simple steps to safeguard personal information and being aware of warning signs can protect aging men and women from financial abuse.

Tips for Seniors:

What should you do to protect yourself?

  • Plan ahead to protect your assets and to ensure your wishes are followed.  Talk to someone at your financial institution, an attorney, or financial advisor about the best options for you.
  • Shred receipts, bank statements and unused credit card offers before throwing them away.
  • Carefully choose a trustworthy person to act as your agent in all estate-planning matters.
  • Lock up your checkbook, account statements and other sensitive information when others will be in your home.
  • Order copies of your credit report once a year to ensure accuracy.
  • Never give personal information, including Social Security Number, account number or other financial information to anyone over the phone unless you initiated the call and the other party is trusted.
  • Never pay a fee or taxes to collect sweepstakes or lottery “winnings.”
  • Never rush into a financial decision.  Ask for details in writing and get a second opinion.
  • Consult with a financial advisor or attorney before signing any document you don’t understand.
  • Get to know your banker and build a relationship with the people who handle your finances. They can look out for any suspicious activity related to your account.
  • Check references and credentials before hiring anyone. Don’t allow workers to have access to information about your finances.
  • Pay with checks and credit cards instead of cash to keep a paper trail.
  • Feel free to say “no.” After all, it’s your money.
  • You have the right not to be threatened or intimidated. If you think someone close to you is trying to take control of your finances, call your local Adult Protective Services or tell someone at your bank.
  • Trust your instincts. Exploiters and abusers often are very skilled. They can be charming and forceful in their effort to convince you to give up control of your finances. Don’t be fooled—if something doesn’t feel right, it may not be right. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

What should you do if you are a victim of financial abuse?

  • Talk to a trusted family member who has your best interests at heart, or to your clergy.
  • Talk to your attorney, doctor or an officer at your bank.
  • Contact Adult Protective Services in your state or your local police for help.

Tips for Family and Friends:

What are the warning signs of financial abuse?

The key to spotting financial abuse is a change in a person’s established financial patterns. Watch out for these “red flags”:

  • Unusual activity in an older person’s bank accounts, including large, frequent or unexplained withdrawals.
  • ATM withdrawals by an older person who has never used a debit or ATM card.
  • Changing from a basic account to one that offers more complicated services the customer does not fully understand or need.
  • Withdrawals from bank accounts or transfers between accounts the customer cannot explain.
  • New “best friends” accompanying an older person to the bank.
  • Sudden non-sufficient fund activity or unpaid bills.
  • Closing CDs or accounts without regard to penalties.
  • Uncharacteristic attempts to wire large sums of money.
  • Suspicious signatures on checks, or outright forgery.
  • Confusion, fear or lack of awareness on the part of an older customer.
  • Refusal to make eye contact, shame or reluctance to talk about the problem.
  • Checks written as “loans” or “gifts.”
  • Bank statements that no longer go to the customer’s home.
  • New powers of attorney the older person does not understand.
  • A caretaker, relative or friend who suddenly begins conducting financial transactions on behalf of an older person without proper documentation.
  • Altered wills and trusts.
  • Loss of property.

What should you do if you suspect financial abuse?

  • Talk to elderly friends or loved ones if you see any of the signs mentioned here. Try to determine what specifically is happening with their financial situation, such as a new person “helping” them with money management, or a relative using cards or credit without their permission.
  • Report the elder financial abuse to their bank, and enlist their banker’s help to stop it and prevent its recurrence.
  • Contact Adult Protective Services in your town or state for help.
  • Report all instances of elder financial abuse to your local police—if fraud is involved, they should investigate.

 

Banking Has Changed, But Criminals Haven’t — Here’s How To Protect Your Money

This year marks a decade since the global financial crisis. Although the biggest financial institutions still dominate the landscape, banking has undergone some changes. The proliferation of smartphones means mobile banking now plays a significant role in how we manage our money. A 2016 Fed survey found that over half of smartphone users with bank accounts used their devices to access their money.

What hasn’t changed since 2008? Con artists.

» 10 years after the Great Recession: Tips and advice to prepare for bad times and to prosper — any time

Ten years ago, identity theft was the No. 1 complaint logged by the Federal Trade Commission. Today, the number of complaints is 20% higher than in 2008. The research-based advisory firm Javelin Strategy & Research identified a record high of nearly 17 million victims of identity fraud last year. And many of today’s fraud and identity theft breaches involve mobile devices. The rise of mobile banking in the past decade means it’s easier and more convenient to keep up with your bank accounts, but it could also make it easier to be scammed.

Financial institutions invest in technology and cybersecurity expertise to fight back, but your bank or credit union needs your help. Here are ways hackers try to access your bank information and how you can avoid swiping your money into a criminal’s trap.

How hackers work

Phishing. This happens when hackers use websites, emails or other means of contact to trick customers into submitting personal information. The practice isn’t new, but it has gotten more sophisticated.

“Ten years ago, phishing was rudimentary. Fake sites were not authentic looking. There were a lot of typos,” says Adam Levin, founder of Cyberscout, a Scottsdale, Arizona-based cybersecurity company. “Now, the criminals have gotten much more sophisticated and the sites look real.”

According to the not-for-profit Anti-Phishing Working Group, phishing attacks increased by a whopping 5,700% over the 12 years ended in 2016, and the latest data suggest attacks continue to increase.

Keylogger software. These programs may install on phones via apps that aren’t secure, such as one that’s not from your device’s approved app store. The software records keystrokes, such as when you enter a bank username or password on a website, then sends a record of what was typed to the hacker.

How to protect your accounts

Ask your bank or credit union about security. The safest banks for consumers use the latest cybersecurity protocols to protect your accounts from breaches and large-scale identity theft. “You’ll want to make sure your bank is up to par,” Levin says. If not, it may be time to switch to another institution. Make sure your bank provides the following — and use these services:

  • Two-factor authentication.When you attempt to log on to your bank’s secure online webpage, the bank or credit union will contact you through some other means — by sending a text, for example — to ask you to confirm the login request. Not every bank has two-factor authentication. But if you choose one that does, your accounts have an extra layer of protection, says Neal Stern, CPA and member of the American Institute of CPAs’ National Financial Literacy Commission.
  • Transaction alerts.Sign up for these alerts, which are generally text or email messages your bank sends to your mobile device when large purchases are made on your account or if your balance drops below a certain amount. (For a deeper look at transaction alerts, here are five mobile banking alerts that help fight fraud.)
  • Fraud monitoring.Many banks monitor transactions to detect unusual spending patterns. The bank might send you a confirmation text if it detects an odd purchase attempt, such as an online purchase worth thousands of dollars from a vendor you’ve never used before. You would have to reply before approval of the transaction.

Keep mobile device software up to date. Your device provider likely sends periodic updates. Some of them may help stop the latest hacker attempts, so it’s important to install updates.

Have a rock solid sign-on. When it comes to logging on to your bank’s website, use “long and strong passwords” that are hard to guess, Levin says. That way, even if you lose your phone, the next person who picks it up won’t be able to figure out how to log in to your bank accounts. In addition, lock your mobile device screen and use a different password to unlock it. (Read more about how to create passwords that are hard on others but easy on you.)

Be careful with other contacts. Fraudsters may try to trick a customer by calling and saying an account has been compromised, then asking for sensitive information, such as a password or Social Security number, to confirm their identity.

“Why would you need to authenticate yourself to someone who contacts you?” Levin says. If you’re unsure about whether a call is legit, hang up and try to reach the bank or credit union at a number you’re familiar with.

Today, customers can deposit checks, transfer money between accounts and pay bills from the convenience of their smartphones. But with convenience comes risk. Take steps to eliminate the risk of identity theft by partnering with your financial institution to protect your hard-earned money.

Margarette Burnette is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: mburnette@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @Margarette. The article Banking Has Changed, but Criminals Haven’t — Here’s How to Protect Your Money originally appeared on NerdWallet.