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Thursday, July 18, 2024

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How To Protect Older Adults From Scams

By Aaron Allen, The Portland Medium

Anyone can be a victim of scams, but older adults are often vulnerable targets. Sheila Winston, a senior business consultant with Chase, says that it is important for people to stay alert to common scams and financial abuse signs that can help protect older loved ones from becoming victims.

“I think it’s really sad that people take advantage of the older generation when it comes to scams,” says Winston. “A lot of times they (scammers) think the elderly are key targets because they have possible signs of maybe memory loss or dementia or maybe they think they lack the cognitive skills to be able to figure problems out and things like that.”

“So, it’s just really sad that they target that audience to be able to get over on them. And a lot of times because of the era that they’ve been raised in, they (the elderly) are more trusting because scamming wasn’t as prevalent back in earlier times,” Winston adds.

According to Winston, scammers have become more convincing, using sophisticated methods to impersonate companies or organizations. Here are some common signs of scams and tips to protect yourself:

Urgent Demands and Personal Information Requests

Scammers often create a false sense of urgency, demanding quick action, money, or access to personal information. They may claim that you will lose money or face other consequences. Remember: neither banks nor the government will threaten you or demand money to protect your accounts. If you receive a suspicious call, hang up and call the number on the back of your credit or debit card.

“They (scammers) will try to create a false sense of urgency,” says Winston. “Like the money’s got to be mailed or wired at a certain time. I do have an example of that. I had received an email and the verbiage in the email was ‘very urgent to send monies,’ and they thought they could do it through the bank. Well, they were trying to impersonate a business and because I know how my businesspeople talk, I could kind of recognize that that was not them. So again, it’s all about trying to create a false sense of urgency to receive money.”

New Relationships with Financial Interest

Be wary of new friends or acquaintances who show an unusual interest in your finances or offer investment opportunities. Financial abuse often comes from persons known to the victim, like caretakers or new acquaintances.

“It’s so sad because people do target the elders like caretakers or people that come into their life and supposedly are trying to help them,” says Winston. “But in all fairness, they have an agenda. So, I think that you should be aware of that type of thing.”

Unexpected Contact from “Loved Ones”

Scammers can use artificial intelligence (AI) to replicate familiar voices, posing as friends or family in danger and demanding money. Always verify by contacting your loved one directly.

“Loved ones are very hard to detect because we all have loved ones. But you know, AI is so sophisticated nowadays, it can actually impersonate other voices and so you might think you’re talking to your son, your daughter or someone that you are close to and divulge a bunch of information to them and not realize the whole time that you’re talking to the wrong person,” says Winston.

Unusual Financial Activity

Monitor your accounts for unusual activity, such as unauthorized withdrawals, changes to account details, or missed bill payments. Keep your checkbook safe and automate payments when possible. Discuss with trusted contacts who can support you with financial decisions if needed.

“We want to make sure that your checks are safe, that you have some type of alert controls available,” Winston advises. “So you know what the balances are, make sure that you don’t fall for the scam, that something’s happening in your account. So really having a clear understanding of your financial activities and what transactions should be coming in and out of it. And again, if anything is suspicious, then you need to actually call the bank to make sure that that transaction is actually valid.”

Changes in Ownership and Responsibility

Be alert to sudden changes in wills, power of attorneys, or other financial plans that you did not authorize. This could indicate financial abuse.

“So, what you have to make sure is why is there suddenly a change in ownership?” says Winston. “For example, power of attorneys and entities like that. Make sure that you’re aware of if suddenly your passwords are changed, and you didn’t authorize it. That’s something to really look into if that happens. I’m on the phone trying to figure out why the passwords changed or what happened, unusual activity, because somehow, they’ve gotten a hold of your information.”

Steps to Protect Yourself

• Ignore and block calls and messages from unknown numbers. Don’t trust caller ID alone. Contact the company, bank, or loved one directly to verify any issues.

• Dispose of unsolicited mail and be cautious with suspicious emails or messages. Don’t answer questions about personal finances.

• Keep your personal information, account details, and passwords secure to prevent scammers from accessing your money and identity.

• Use digital payment methods or your bank’s online bill payment feature to avoid using checks that can be stolen and altered.

• Enable online alerts for large purchases to act quickly if you see fraudulent charges.

• Shred bank statements, receipts, unused checks, and credit cards before discarding them.

Have conversations with trusted family members about how they can support your financial needs as you age to protect yourself from fraud and financial exploitation. If you suspect you’ve been scammed, contact your bank to verify recent transactions. Don’t feel embarrassed if you become a victim—share your experience with friends and family and ask for help