According to a recent survey referenced in AARP’s Bulletin for January-February 2016, American senior citizens lose an aggregate $12.76 billion a year to criminal fraud. Clearly, scammers are having success in targeting the elderly. There are many steps you can take, however, to protect yourself and senior family members from becoming marks. Below are ten suggestions:
1. Sign up to receive AARP’s free Watchdog Alerts.These email alerts arm you with information about the latest scams so you can be on guard.
2. Use Caller ID. Do not answer calls from unknown or unidentified numbers. Some scammers use robocalls (an automated and pre-recorded telephone call) to identify telephone numbers of people to target in the future.
3. Sign the Consumers Union’s End Robocalls Petition. Consumer Reports also recommends Nomorobo, a free robocall interception service.
4. Sign up for the National Do Not Call Registry. Although signing up does not prevent robocalls, it could help you avoid other telemarketing calls from potential fraudsters.
5. Vet everything and everyone. It is easy to do background searches on people and businesses these days. Contact the Better Business Bureau and/or use the web to find out if there are any complaints or warnings associated with the person or organization that contacted you. If you employ someone that will access to your home or the home of a loved one, ensure that someone (either you or the agency that they were hired through) conducts a state and federal background check on the employee.
6. Err on the side of caution. Some people may find it difficult to disengage from calls from friendly-sounding strangers. Keep in mind that your first priority is to protect yourself, rather than to be polite. If a telemarketer tells you about an offer that sounds too good to be true, such as a free timeshare, use common sense. Avoid providing personal or financial details of any kind. The same rule applies to emails that appear to be from vendors that prompt you to provide information via a link to solve a problem. Do not click on the link. Contact your vendor directly to find out if there is indeed a problem.
7. Check your credit reports regularly. AARP recommends that you obtain your credit report three times a year. You can obtain a free copy of your credit report from Equifax, Experian or TransUnion once a year through AnnualCreditReport.com.
8. Pick strong passwords. AARP notes that the best passwords are long and include letters, numbers and symbols, and are changed regularly. It is also wise to avoid using the same password for multiple financial accounts.
9. Watch your wallet. Make sure your wallet holds as little personal information as possible. For example, do not carry documents that contain your social security number or passwords.
10. Share your Story. If you are victimized by a scam, you can help others and hinder scammers by reporting your experiences. Visit Consumer Reports’ Elder Scams page for more information.
Scammers constantly devise new ways to defraud people, and senior citizens are a top target. The problem is therefore unlikely to go away. By following these suggestions, however, you can better protect yourself and those you love against scammers.