Sadly, we live in a world where there are people who look to take advantage seniors. They know that the older generation tends to be more trusting and take advantage of their trust in several ways.
Here are a few scams or criminal activity to warn your parents about – or be cautious about yourself.
There are unscrupulous scam artists who call homes pretending to be with a credit card company, charity or even the IRS. They use scare tactics such as fines or jail time to get people to pay their outstanding bill over the phone. They tend to be more successful with the elderly, probably because they are more likely to even have a land line these days, or because they answer their home phone, even if they don’t recognize the number.
My parents have caller ID, yet they answer every call that comes through and end up listening to telemarketers frequently. They are always surprised when they are in my home and a call comes in and if I don’t recognize the number, I don’t answer the call. I only talk to people who I want to talk to. I feel no obligation to answer every call, but for some reason, I think older adults feel compelled to answer every call they receive.
A few things to note – the IRS and credit card companies do not solicit payment over the phone. If your parent thinks the call is valid, they can ask for a claim number and call the company back – using a phone number they find on a credit card statement or in the phone book. There is never a need to provide a social security number, driver’s license number or credit card over the phone to any organization. If it is a charity they’d like to support, they can get a mailing address and mail a donation.
Identity theft has become far more prevalent than in the past. As criminals get smarter, it is important to remain vigilant about protecting your parents and yourselves from identity theft. I once had a customer who was 89 years old who mentioned in passing that she never checks her bank statements because she trusts her bank. I was speechless. I mean, sure, your bank won’t steal your money, but someone else might!
Here are some ways seniors can protect themselves from identity theft:
1. Be aware of friends, family members or caretakers that start asking for small loans or share stories of financial hardships. Some criminals try to play on emotions to gain access to identifying information or financial capabilities.
2. Be sure they keep personal and identifying information in a safe place away from visitors. Bank statements, credit card statements, Medicare statements and other personal documents offer a wealth of identifying information.
3. Shred any documents that contain personal information.
4. Opt out of direct mail credit offers by calling the Federal Trade Commission’s OPTOUT line at: 1-888-567-8688. Direct mail and credit card contain too much personal information.
5. Ask them not to carry their social security card in their purse or wallet unless they will be required to show it.
6. If they use paper checks, don’t have them delivered to their home. Have them sent to a Post Office box or to their financial institution where they can pick them up.
7. Don’t have their home phone number, social security number, driver’s license number, or date of birth printed on their personal checks.
8. They shouldn’t sign the back of your credit and debit cards. Instead, write PHOTO I.D. REQUIRED FOR USE in the signature space.
Finally, if their identity has been compromised, contact one of the three credit bureaus (Equifax: 800-525-6285 Experien: 888-397-3742 TransUnion: 800-680-7289) and the Federal Trade Commission’s Identity Theft hotline at 877-438-4338.
Distraction Burglary is a crime where doorstep fraudsters pose as officials (including police, utility workers, door-to-door salesmen, contractors, real estate agents, volunteer service groups, medical examiners) to gain the targeted victims confidence, enabling them to gain entry into the residence during daytime hours.
For example, victims may be approached by a person posing as a termite or electrical wiring inspector offering a “free” inspection. Once inside the victim’s home, money and jewelry will be stolen or the fraudster will case the home for a future visit. There have also been cases where there are two fraudsters and while one is distracting the homeowner at the front door, the other is attempting to enter the home from the back of the house or garage.
How can you protect your parents?
1. Don’t open the door. My preference would be for them to not open the door at all, however, if they are compelled to find out what the person wants, they should communicate through a locked metal screen door or keep the chain on the door and only open it a sliver.
2. If someone is claiming to be from a company, ask what it is they need through the closed door. Always ask for an ID or any associated paperwork and get them to pass these through the letterbox. If there is any doubt, call the company they say they are from independently. Never call the number they provide. Use the phonebook or 411.
3. Always keep valuables, money and items of sentimental value where they are not easily visible or accessible – the use of a small safe might be appropriate. Keep documents containing personal details out of sight (passport, utility bills, bank statements etc.).
4. Call the police if they are suspicious or feel that the caller may be bogus, if someone forces entry or enters the home without permission or if they notice valuables or money have gone missing shortly after someone has visited.
It is also helpful to be part of a neighborhood watch or online network such as their neighborhood Facebook page or Next Door to learn about what is happening where they live. Community members post warnings about suspicious people in the neighborhood or scams that they have encountered. For instance, on my Next Door page, I learned about mailbox tampering in our community. Apparently, there was a sticky substance put on the inside of the post office mailboxes so that the mail would stick and then could be stolen from the box. I would have never known this otherwise! Of course if your parents aren’t online, you can always join on their behalf.
Have you had to navigate senior scams with your parents?