Protecting older loved ones from financial fraud
Anyone can be at risk of falling victim to fraud. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that consumers lost about $8.8 billion to scammers in 2022 — a roughly 30% increase compared to 2021.
That means everyone can benefit from learning about common scams — and how to avoid them, including elders.
Elders may be online less, making them less likely to fall victim to particular internet scams. But mild dementia, social isolation and a lifelong etiquette of answering the phone can make it harder for them to avoid certain scams.
According to this interactive graphic by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), people of different ages are targeted differently by scammers — and with different impacts.
For example, those 70 and older are most likely to be targeted by phone. These types of scams accounted for 25% of victims between 70 and 79, and 38% of those older than 80.
The payment methods scammers used to extract money from their victims also varied by age. Credit cards and gift or reloaded cards each accounted for 26% for those ages 70 and up.
Here are 12 tips to help your parents, grandparents, elderly friends and relatives protect themselves against fraud.
- Provide education on email and phone scams. Both of these can confuse people of all ages. But they can be particularly rattling to elderly folks, especially those who live alone or are already somewhat confused. Tell them to never give out their social security number, account numbers, birthday, or other private information to anyone who calls them. Tell them to hang up and call the institution the person claimed to be from, using a phone number from a bill, statement, or the internet. Alternatively, ask them to hang up and immediately call you if they ever receive a call from someone asking for private information.
- Provide education on payment requests. Explain to your loved one that they should never give money in the form of a gift card, wired money, or a cashier's check — and they should never give money in any form in response to a phone call, email, or text. If they ask for your help with gift cards, wire transfers, or cashier's checks, treat it as a red flag.
- Use added protection on cell phones. If the person has a cell phone, there are various options to either silence calls from unknown numbers (they can still leave a voicemail and your log will show who's called) or block numbers entirely. PCMag explains how to do this on Android and iOS devices. They also walk through additional services offered by three main cell service providers. Having trouble setting it up? Call the customer service office — or drop into one of their local offices for hands-on help. As an added perk, some of these strategies can also help block spam texts.
- Set up caller ID and an old-school answering machine on a landline. That way, your loved one can opt to answer only if they know the person who is calling. Numbers they don't recognize can still leave a message on an answering machine — and if it's a call they want to take, they can pick up while the person is leaving a message. Scammers will rarely leave a message.
- Add their name and number to the Do Not Call Registry. Admittedly, this only blocks legitimate telemarketers (scammers don't care if you're on the list or not). But at least this will reduce the chance that they will buy something they don't need — or give money to a charity they otherwise wouldn't have donated to.
- Get a shredder. Scammers sometimes rifle through garbage and recycling looking for papers with sensitive numbers on them, like account numbers, social security numbers and passwords. Help your loved one build the habit of shredding any sensitive documents by gifting them a shredder. Offer to shred for them if the job seems onerous — or make it fun by having a grandkid or other child help!
- Freeze credit reports. You'll need to do this with the three main credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. The FTC has compiled all the relevant contact info and web pages for freezing these credit reports. Freezing credit reports will help protect against identity theft, because scammers typically can't get credit in someone else's name if their credit reports are frozen.
- Opt out of prescreened credit card offers. Opting out of preapproved credit card offers will prevent your loved one from signing up for credit cards they don't need (which may or may not come with annual fees). More important, it will prevent someone from stealing their mail and then getting a credit card in their name. Opt out of prescreened credit card offers.
- Check credit reports regularly. By checking their credit report online, they can catch any errors or signs of fraud quickly — and work on correcting them. They can check their credit report online for free through annualcreditreport.com. They can view their credit reports from the three big credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. They used to only offer one free report from each bureau per year, but a rise in fraud during the COVID-19 pandemic led them to offer free weekly credit reports. This policy was still in effect as of February 2023.
- Be sure they've signed up for security and fraud alerts from every financial institution they use. These alerts will call, text and/or email them if there are any changes or suspicious activity on their account. That way, they'll know quickly if there's been a breach. Make sure they have your most up-to-date information so they don't miss the alerts. And if you're authorized to help someone with their finances, see if you can add your contact info to the fraud alerts.
- Sign up for the DMAchoice do-not-mail service. There's a $4 administrative fee to register an address for 10 years. Again, this won't stop scams, but it will reduce junk mail. This means less garbage and recycling to haul, and also reduces the chance that a confused elder may order a product or service they don't need. They also have a free email opt-out service. Just enter their email address — and be sure to click the verification link they send them within 30 days.
- See if their financial institutions offer credit and identity theft protection services. These types of services will typically monitor credit reports, watch for other signs that private info has been breached and help fix problems if they arise. Synovus offers free Credit and Identity Protection services to Synovus Plus, Synovus Inspire, or Synovus Private Wealth customers.
For more tips on protecting elders from scams, check out 7 Ways to Protect Your Aging Parents From Financial Abuse.
Important Disclosure Information
This content is general in nature and does not constitute legal, tax, accounting, financial or investment advice. You are encouraged to consult with competent legal, tax, accounting, financial or investment professionals based on your specific circumstances. We do not make any warranties as to accuracy or completeness of this information, do not endorse any third-party companies, products, or services described here, and take no liability for your use of this information.
People are also reading
Do you have questions or ideas?
Share your thoughts about this article or suggest a topic for a new one