We live in fascinating times in terms of technological wonders. All manner of fancy gadgets have made it enormously convenient to do most everything, from everyday chores like paying bills or shopping to researching for a college essay and managing your bank account. While it is indeed easier to handle finances without leaving the house, the technology that allows us to do so has also invited a widespread plague of identity theft and related fraud.
This is especially concerning for and a prevalent issue among the elderly. As it has been for generations, older people are still targeted for this type of treatment for a variety of reasons—they are often trusting, may be cognitively impaired, are potentially less tech savvy, and might have significant funds available. Some go-to approaches among thieves include scams, identity theft, forgery, and the age-old trick of coercing information over the phone to property or funds.
The best defense? Be organized, proactive, and aware. With that in mind, let’s look at some proven tips to protect the finances of older people, whether it is your own scenario or a family member.
Financial protection tips
One of the first and most important steps in defending against financial abuse is ensuring all financial records are thoroughly organized and staying well aware of exactly how much money is in your accounts. It is also wise strategy to discuss available options for asset protection with an attorney or financial advisor to ensure money and property is properly managed, especially in the event of death or impairment. Here are some other proven self-protection tips:
- Always choose someone you fully trust with whom to share private financial planning details and a person who can help monitor finances.
- At home, lock up your account statements, checkbook, and any other confidential information.
- Never provide personal or financial information to anyone over the phone unless you made the call. This includes account numbers, Social Security number, and the like.
- Order copies of your credit report and carefully review for unauthorized activity.
- Don’t sign documents you don’t understand, and pay with checks and credit cards for easy transaction reference.
The family and friends element
Family and close friends can also be a great help by staying aware of the many nefarious ways thieves use to access financial information and steal money. For example, if you suspect an issue, immediately investigate. Perhaps someone new is in the picture and helping your loved one “manage” their money, or a relative got hold of their credit card and is using it without permission.
It is also important in these situations to contact applicable banks and related institutions and let them know of the issue. A bank will not provide private account information but they can quickly review transactions and can help resolve problems. Consumer financial protection laws also help guard against unauthorized withdrawals such as mobile transactions. In fact, most instances of identity theft with the elderly originate with the theft of their debit card and PIN number of a checking account. The Electronic Fund Transfer Act protects consumers from losses occurring through unauthorized transactions, commonly ATM withdrawals and store purchases. You can also keep an eye open for other signs of financial woe:
- Unexplained account withdrawals
- Disappearance of funds or valuable items from a home
- Unplanned asset transfer to another person
- Sudden changes to a will or related financial documents
- Unexpected financial decisions made by an unknown person
- Suspicious signatures on check and other documents
What to do if you are a victim of financial abuse
Remember that financial abuse is a crime that not only deprives older adults of their resources but also their independence. This can easily become a disastrous life event and if you or a family member notices signs of theft, fraud, misuse of assets, or attempts to gain control of money should be on high alert. Talk to a trusted family member or person with your best interests at heart, stay in contact with your bank, and if necessary, contact your local police or Adult Protective Services office.
Always report instances of financial abuse. It is a prevalent but under-reported crime; however, victims can report issues to the National Center on Elder Abuse or IdentityTheft.gov.
Stay aware, stay informed, and stay safe.
If you or your family member is considering in-home care as part of a plan to age in place, contact Family Matters In-Home Care today for a free consultation. Our team is dedicated to supporting your family and helping older adults enjoy life in the comfort of their own home for as long as possible.
Some of the services offered by Family Matter In-Home Care include: Alzheimer’s & Dementia Care, Bed & Wheelchair Transfer Assistance, Companionship, Housekeeping & Meal Preparation, Personal Care, Recovery Care, and Transportation.