Last week I provided a handy list of preventative measures to help you avoid financial scams. But what do you do about the tricky people in your life who want to take your money? Half of all abuse comes from someone the victim knows. This means friends, paid caregivers, and professionals you depend on. While I’m not advocating for you to be untrusting of those around you, I am telling you that it’s important to pay attention to the red flags.
You should ask yourself: Is there anyone in my network that might want to take my money or anyone that “feels” that I owe them money? Here’s a list of the red flags to look out for:
Do I have new friends who are overly helpful?
Look out for the con artist. These tricksters will use coercion, flattery and manipulation. How can this happen to you? I’ll paint you a picture:
Let’s say you have recently met someone who is really interested in helping you around the house or with errands. Your new friend is charming and really interested in knowing you and being around you. Over time you start to trust this person and maybe even depend on them for your day-to-day activities. In the end, you do things you wouldn’t normally do such as gift-giving, especially after they tell you about all of the difficulties in their life. How nice of you to just “give” your low-mileage car to that nice new friend of yours! You think your new friend is being helpful. Nope! They are grooming you to take advantage of your kindness.
Is anyone resentful or angry about helping me?
Pay attention to those who are resentful or angry about any requests to help out with caregiving. This is the type who feels that they are “owed” something for their efforts. This mentality leads to all kinds of abuse such as abandonment, starvation, denial of care, physical harm or threats to place you in a nursing home. Additionally, the abuser may steal your money, pay for things with your credit, take your valuables, or make you sign things you don’t agree with or understand.
Am I my caretaker’s golden goose?
There are people out there who are really down on their luck and are desperate enough to hold you hostage in exchange for caretaking. Unfortunately these caretakers see you as a golden goose and have no problem using caretaking on a quid pro quo basis.
Have you ever read the book “Misery”? The story is of a woman who discovers that her favorite author has crushed his leg in an accident. She “cares” for him but ultimately holds him hostage, afraid for his life, unless he writes a novel for her. This horror novel is an extreme example of an abuser who holds their victim hostage. While the story is far-fetched, it’s not usual for us to rely on our friends and families for certain things during different times of our lives. An abusive caregiver could hold you hostage or tie their efforts to what you can do for them in ways that aren’t appropriate. It’s clear to see how you can easily lose control of your finances in these circumstances.
Do my hired professionals really have my interests at heart?
Beware professionals who are unethical. While most professionals will be honest with you, unfortunately we can’t say the same about everyone out there. Some “sketchy” professionals will intentionally confuse older adults in order to take advantage of them. These professionals could be your banker, accountant, financial advisor, doctor, or even lawyer (yes, we know the jokes too!). It could be anyone who has a professional relationship with you. These criminals are more than happy to help you line their pockets via forgery, lying, coercion, and misrepresentation.
On the September 24, 2021 episode of the true crime podcast Criminal episode “Family Money,” journalist Phoebe Judge investigates the case of two bankers who siphoned off millions of dollars from their grandmother after she entrusted them with her accounts. Because she trusted them and they also held a formal relationship as her bankers, they were able to move money out of her accounts and make investments that only benefited themselves- not her. This situation demonstrates how all three of our situations listed can work together, especially for people who you think would NEVER take advantage of you. And for most people that’s the case. But it never hurts to have a second or third set of eyes on things if it seems like something might be amiss.
I know these are scary things to think about, and we generally don’t want to frighten our readers, but planning is important. And in this day and age, where so many scammers are out there not only online, but also those who may be coming into your home, it’s important to have a plan to protect yourself. If you need help creating a plan to protect yourself or a loved one, click here to schedule a call with us.
The first step in protecting yourself from scammers is to crawl under a rock… I’m just joking! But seriously, scammers are everywhere and target everyone. But the easier it is to find your information, the easier it is for them to contact you. Here are some things you can do today:
Opt out of “people” search engines. Here are the basic steps for opting out of people search engines: – First: Do an internet search on yourself. Where is your information listed? – Next: Find your listing on each website. Once you have the listing, write down the URL or ID number. – Finally: Use the IRL or ID for your listing and enter them into the opt out pages for each search engine.
Here are a few of the people search engine links to get you started:
While it may take a little time and effort, it is beneficial to your sanity to request your information be taken off of these websites!
Unsubscribe from email listings whenever possible. If you find you are suddenly getting emails for a business or organization you didn’t sign up for, simply label it “Junk” and move on. Your email provider will take care of the rest.
Do a privacy check up on your social media accounts. Set high limits on security and privacy on your social media accounts. Don’t let strangers message you. Unfriend anyone you don’t personally know.
The next step in fortifying your finances is to be overly cautious when talking to people you don’t know.
Don’t answer phone calls from numbers that are not programmed into your contacts. If it’s important, they will leave you a voicemail. If you accidentally answer the phone and you have no idea who is calling, don’t say anything other than normal pleasantries such as “hello” or “oh, that’s interesting”. Have a “refusal” script handy near the phone. It’s perfectly okay to say “I have to go now…” and simply hang up.
Create a “secret word” – The easiest way to protect yourself from a telemarketing or grandparent scam is to create a secret word. A secret word is a “code word” or phrase that only your loved ones will know. If the caller doesn’t know the secret word, then they don’t know you.
Follow the proper channels for communicating with government services. The IRS, Medicare, and Social Security will never call you! Nor will any correspondence be an emergency! There’s too much bureaucracy for urgency. For example, if the IRS wants to get in touch, they will send an official letter. That guy on the phone telling you that you owe past taxes and will go to jail is not from the IRS- he’s a scammer! And finally, never give your Medicare or Social Security information over the phone unless you initiated the phone call directly to the agency.
And finally here are some other very smart ways to stop scams:
Never click on a link within an email. I know this is a hard and fast rule, but the extra time it takes to navigate to a website outside of your email is worth your financial safety.
Don’t rush into making major financial decisions. Shop around and do your research before altering your home mortgage, making major home repairs, or changing your investments. Review all contracts until you are comfortable that you understand what you are required to do, what the other party must do, and what happens if something goes wrong. And finally, don’t hesitate to have someone else review your important documents.
Subscribe to a fraud monitoring plan. If you don’t want to fuss around with monitoring your credit or data on the web use a credit monitoring subscription instead. Companies such as LifeLock and EverSafe offer paid subscriptions that monitor your information and alert you to suspicious activity.
Set up safeguards at the bank. If someone else assists you with making purchases, consider giving them a credit or debit card with pre-set limits. Additionally, make sure your caregiver is being paid a fair wage and has fair amounts of time off- this will reduce the financial pressure on them to steal.
Create a trust. Creating a trust is a great way to have control over what happens to your assets, especially if you become incapacitated. Trusts aren’t easy to change and provide rules and limitations over who has access to your assets.
If possible, hire a team. Life is much less complicated when you have a professional accountant, financial advisor, and attorney on your side. Leave the legal and financial details to the people who keep up to date on the current federal rules and regulations.
And most importantly: Do not become isolated. No one gets through life alone. We all need a village to help more or less at certain stages of life. Just like you would have a neighbor keep an eye on your house during vacation, having a support system keeping an eye out for you is always a good thing. And you can do the same for them!
I hope this list has motivated you to reassess your financial security measures. There are so many actions that you can do today! Which one are you going to do first?
If you’re looking for an attorney who focuses on Elder Law, please don’t hesitate to reach out. It costs nothing to schedule a 15 minute consultation with the team at GALS!
As we gracefully age, we become targets for some crafty criminals who will entice you to give them your personal information and money. Most of the time we don’t realize it’s happening until it’s too late! Here’s a detailed list of the top scams commonly used on older adults to take their money.
1. Telephone Scams on the Elderly
This is one of the most popular telephone scams on older adults. It is a sinister scam as it preys on your emotions. Basically, a con artist will call posing as a frantic family member who is in serious distress or trouble. They may also pretend to be a lawyer or police officer that is calling on the behalf of the troubled grandchild. The goal is to get you to wire money immediately or give a bunch of cash to a courier. If successful, the scammers will likely continue to call for money.
If you receive a phone call asking you to donate to a charity for a recent disaster, it is likely a scam. Do your research and only donate to charities you’ve fully vetted.
The IRS, Medicare, Social Security or other government offices will never call you! For example, if a fake IRS agent calls you with aggressive threats saying you owe money and must pay immediately, it is a scam! The government does not contact people this way and they don’t work this fast either (we all know this from personal experience). Typically, the government will contact you via USPS mail.
Unexpected prize and lottery scams
These scams bait you into thinking you must pay a “fee” to collect a prize you’ve won. This scam relies on you forgetting that you have entered the competition. These scams can come at you via telephone, email, mail, text message and social media.
Tech support scams
If you receive a phone call from someone claiming to be tech support, hang up! In this scam, someone will contact you via phone, pop-up, or email saying you have a security breach within your computer. They will ask you for your username and password or ask you for permission to remotely take over your computer. The goal of the scammer is to find your confidential information and use it to take your money!
2. Computer Scams on Older Adults
SMS or email phishing scams
Phishing scams come from well-known sources such as your bank or investment company. These messages look legit and prompt you to click on links that redirect to fake websites. Once you enter your username and password into the fake website, the hackers have your credentials and have control over your accounts.
Malware and ransomware
You will see this scam in emails and on social media. The goal of the scammer is to get you to click on a link in an email or an interesting article. Once you are on their website, they will ask you to download some software. Unfortunately the software contains a virus designed to steal your personal information. Sometimes the hacker will hold the information on your computer “hostage” until you pay a ransom. If you pay the ransom, there is no guarantee your computer will be unlocked.
There are a lot of scammers who pretend to be looking for love on social networking and dating apps. These scammers use a fake identity and manipulate you into giving them your money!
3. Fraudulent Business that Target Older Adults
Legitimate services with illegitimate businesses
As an older adult you will be heavily marketed for a reverse mortgage, credit repair, or refinancing. There are a lot of fake businesses that will offer you free homes, investment opportunities, and foreclosure or refinance assistance. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is!
Counterfeit prescription drugs
Not only does this scam hurt your wallet, it hurts your health. There are a lot of fake websites that are more than happy to sell you counterfeit prescriptions.
Fake Anti-aging products that scam older adults
Online shopping has made it easier for criminals to sell you anti-aging cosmetics. Unfortunately you might be buying a product that contains arsenic, beryllium, cadmium, aluminum, and biological contaminants. These products are unsafe and really gross!
4. Tricky People who “Help” Older Adults
Caregivers who scam the elderly
It’s natural to trust those who are close to you. This includes hired help and family members or friends who provide you with caregiving services. Unfortunately there are tricky people out there who will manipulate or outright steal your money and possessions.
While most financial advisors are trustworthy, there are a few rotten ones out there that like to scam older adults. These “advisors” might make trades that line their pocket yet empty yours. They might try to involve you in a Ponzi scheme, promise unrealistic returns, or simply walk off with your money because they aren’t who they say they are.
Beware the door-to-door salesman offering to repair your roof for cheap because they have leftover material from another job. Also beware the “repairman” who asks to inspect your home without you asking. These scammers want you to pay cash up front and are not bonded and insured. Never prepay for services you might not receive!
Another tricky person is the funeral director who tries to sell you something you don’t need such as a casket when your loved one is being cremated. These funeral directors are counting on you being confused because of your grief and loss.
While this list was fairly detailed, it is not exhaustive! New methods to scam older adults appear every day. Make it a habit to check the federal agency websites to stay up to date about current financial scams. I want you to be aware of what’s out there!
And finally, I want you to think:
What steps are you taking to prevent yourself from becoming a victim of financial fraud?
Do you have a financial inventory? Are you aware of what you could lose?
Do you have a plan for protecting your finances in the future?
In my next blog I will discuss several methods you can use to protect yourself and your money!
October is Fraud and Financial Awareness Month. For this reason, I think it is a great time to share with you some information about elder abuse and financial scams. As you know, our firm assists a lot of older or vulnerable adults and we enjoy being able to help protect individuals and families from harm. Over the next few weeks, I will introduce the topic of elder abuse and discuss who is at risk. I will also explain why older adults are often a target of abuse and the various types of scams used. Finally, I talk about what to watch for and some ideas on how you can protect those around you.
How common is elder abuse in America?
There are higher rates of elder abuse in the United States than in most countries. The National Council on Aging reported that about 10% of older Americans have experienced some form of elder abuse, with many of the victims exploited more than once. Unfortunately, a high percentage of these crimes go unreported. Therefore it is estimated that only 1 in 24 instances of abuse are actually reported. Understandably, these are alarming statistics!
[A] single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person. This type of violence constitutes a violation of human rights and includes physical, sexual, psychological, and emotional abuse; financial and material abuse; abandonment; neglect; and serious loss of dignity and respect.
Who is at risk for elder abuse?
Many older adults experience medical conditions that can lead to a reliance on a larger network of people to assist with day-to-day activities. This leaves the elder exposed to more opportunities for elder abuse. Unfortunately, this is all too common. Many of us have heard stories about friends and family members being victims. Below is a list of those who are at higher risk for elder abuse:
Individuals who live with mental or physical disabilities.
An elder who lives with someone who is financially dependent on, emotionally disconnected with or resentful of the vulnerable adult.
Socially isolated individuals.
An elder who lacks familial connections or financial means.
Elders who live in institutions or long-term care facilities.
Do you know an aging person who has been exploited or neglected?
Can you think of an instance where an elderly person in your network has been taken advantage of? Is someone in your family receiving phone calls demanding them to pay back taxes? Has a relative suddenly started dating a prince overseas?
These situations are just a fraction of the examples of elder abuse. The rest of the posts this month will go over the most common ways elders are financially exploited, how to spot tricky behavior from others, and what to do if you or someone you care about is a victim.