Financial Abuse Targeting Older Adults: 10 Steps to Protect Yourself

The world is changing at lightning speed, and scammers know how to use this to their advantage. As we age, it can become increasingly challenging to recognize the newest ways criminals target unsuspecting people. Many financial scams deliberately target older victims, for this reason.

With a few precautions, you can keep yourself and your hard-earned finances safe from financial abuse.

1. Choose Your Caregiver with Caution

Do not assume that by hiring a caregiver through a bonded agency you are guaranteed to get someone who has been checked. In many states, there is no current law requiring mandatory background checks for in-home caregivers.

Do not be afraid to ask the agency if background checks are mandatory or request that they perform one. Alternatively, consider having one done yourself. A caregiver will have access to you and your home, and therefore your financial information. Trust is imperative.

2. Protect Your Jewelry

Jewelry is the number one item that is stolen from homes occupied by older adults.

Keep jewelry in a locked drawer. Take photographs of rare, valuable, or sentimental items and file them in a separate location. In the event of theft, such photographic evidence can prove what you had and be useful in tracking down the missing jewelry at a pawn shop.

3. Buy and Use a Shredder

Every piece of mail containing your name, address and any other identifying information should be shredded before being discarded.  Never throw away old checkbooks from closed accounts or bank credit card application forms. Even envelopes with your name and address should be shredded.

The most effective type of shredder is the crisscross cut shredder. For older adults and people of any age, it is a valuable tool in protecting yourself from financial abuse.

There is no danger in shredding too much so, when in doubt- SHRED IT!

4. Protect Your Mail

Never allow incoming mail to sit in an unsecured mailbox where the public has access. Mailbox theft happens all the time. Similarly, never leave outgoing mail in an unsecured mailbox with the red flag raised, as this simply provides an easy alert to a thief who is cruising the streets.

Consider purchasing a locked mailbox or renting a post office box from your local post office. Inexpensive home cameras can also be used to monitor your mailbox.

5. Apply for Regular Credit Searches

Identity theft is rampant. The only way to have peace of mind is to obtain a credit search on yourself periodically from one of the three major credit bureaus:

  • Experian
  • Equifax
  • Trans Union

This will enable you to know earlier if someone has applied for or obtained a credit card in your name. Then you can take steps to prevent or combat this abuse.

6. Have Caller ID on Your Phone

Most cell phones have the feature built in, but all modern telephones are equipped with caller I.D. capability.  Even if this service is extra for your phone plan, the minimal cost is well worth it. Seeing if the incoming call is classified as “private” or “unknown” will allow you to be more guarded during these calls or choose not to answer at all.

Criminals love the telephone. It is very often their weapon of choice.

7. Beware of Foreign Correspondence

If a seemingly friendly individual tells you on the telephone that you are a proud winner of the Canadian lottery– he or she is a liar.

If you get an email or a letter from a foreign country indicating that you could receive a substantial amount of money– the communication is fraudulent.

If it seems strange or too good to be true– Do not respond!

  • Hang up the phone.
  • Do not reply via mail or email.
  • Do not click on any links in an email.

8. Send a Duplicate Copy of Bank Statements to a Trusted Contact

Sadly, most financial abuse of older adults is only reported or discovered six to nine months after the initial losses have occurred.

An independent pair of eyes that is able to look over bank statements every 30 days may be able to catch suspicious activities in the early stages.

Take special consideration if your sight is failing. You could be at greater risk if you have to rely on someone else to ensure financial transactions are in order. Be sure any assistant is well-vetted.  Have a trusted family member or financial advisor review monthly statements.

Provide a system of checks and balances to catch anything suspicious sooner.

9. Research Home Repair Professionals

Before committing to any work on your home, always obtain at least three estimates in writing and check on the name of the selected contractor with both the Better Business Bureau and with the State License Contractors Board.

Do not assume a person is qualified because they give you an impressive-looking business card with a contractor’s license number on it. License numbers can be stolen.

Additionally, never pay more than 10% of the contract price up-front.

10. Have a Second Line of Defense at the Door

Install a locked screen door or a security chain guard at your front door.

Criminals will attempt to gain entry to your home by first using excuses such as a fake emergency or false uniforms and badges. If you don’t willingly let them in, they may resort to using force.

A second line of defense allows you to communicate with the stranger on the doorstep, while still protecting yourself from the possibility of a forced entry.

Never allow any stranger into your home even if the emergency seems real. Instead, tell the stranger to wait outside while you call 911 for them.

No line of defense is impenetrable but, with a few extra precautions, you can live with confidence knowing that both you and your possessions are well-protected from criminal activity.

Source: Paul Greenwood, Deputy District Attorney
San Diego District Attorney’s Office, Head of Elder Abuse Prosecution

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