By Abel Oonnoonny
As people age, they may become significantly more susceptible to financial scams and fraud—an issue that is becoming increasingly frequent in New York City and across the nation. In fact, older adults tend to experience more wealth-related events than other generations—from selling a home to making IRA withdrawals—which, in turn, makes them more vulnerable to scammers. Sadly, elders increase their vulnerability when they lose touch with those who can support them.
While technology has made many aspects of our lives easier, including managing money, it has also increased the ways in which scammers can weaponize fraudulent activity. As technology continues to evolve and become more prevalent, it becomes more critical than ever to empower older adults to protect their financial accounts—and for trusted family and friends to help them do so, before it’s too late.
Common types of scams targeting older adults include Medicare/healthcare insurance scams, counterfeit prescription drug schemes, romance scams, person-in-need scams, lottery scams, funeral and cemetery scams, telemarketing/phone scams and investment schemes.
STEPS YOU CAN TAKE
No matter your life stage, there are some steps you can take to help avoid scams and to make sure you and your senior family members do not become victims of financial fraud:
• Designate a trusted contact This should be someone who can speak to your financial services provider in the event of an emergency, such as financial exploitation. Many financial institutions provide this as an option, so be sure to check with your provider and assign this role to someone you trust.
• Get your financial affairs in order It’s always important that you understand your full financial situation, especially when it comes to locating and filing your key financial records, creating or reviewing wills, establishing trusts and power of attorney declarations, and updating account and insurance policy beneficiaries as your life situation changes.
• Guard your passwords To protect your online financial accounts, create unique passwords and never share usernames, logins, passwords or personal identification numbers. This is particularly important for those over 60 years old who, according to the 2018 FBI Internet Crime Report, experience the most incidents of online investment scams and the highest monetary loss.
• Get smart with your smartphone It’s not unusual for scammers to mask their phone number to make it appear that a call is local or from a trusted party in order to get the victim to respond. You can help prevent telemarketing scams by joining the National Do Not Call registry, and it is often smart to let calls from unknown phone numbers go to voicemail.
• Up your technology game Knowing how to protect yourself and your information online is a key aspect in avoiding scams and fraud. If you or an older family member feels unfamiliar with the technology you’re using, many recreation centers and libraries offer technology and digital literacy classes to help older adults and their family members protect themselves online.
If you’re worried about the security of your finances, it can also be helpful to talk with a financial advisor. While family and caregivers can be helpful in picking up on potential threats, a financial advisor or institution can be a trusted partner in spotting unusual or suspicious changes in your financial behavior.
While seniors are particularly susceptible to financial scams, you can never be too vigilant when it comes to protecting your finances at any age or life stage. To learn more about how to educate yourself and your older family members on the latest financial schemes, visit Schwab’s resources for senior investors.
For more information on Charles Schwab, visit schwab.com.
Abel Oonnoonny is a vice president and senior financial consultant at Charles Schwab’s Midtown branch with over 20 years of experience. Contact him at 1300 Avenue of the Americas, New York 10019; 212-307-5179.