3 Ways You Can Help Protect Against Elder Scams

Scams can often seem like the stuff of urban legends — an odd, urgent phone call, a smooth-talking person on the other end who weaves a tale of money won in a sweepstakes, or funds needed to help a loved one, that seems too detailed to be a lie — but unfortunately for many seniors who have lost thousands of dollars to unscrupulous strangers, scams that take advantage of the elderly are all too common.

Every year, scammers bilk billions of dollars out of seniors and their families, often by way of impostor schemes, in which criminals pose on the phone or by mail as government officials or other authority figures and claim that money is owed (often to get a family member out of some kind of trouble). They’re also hit hard by gambits involving prizes, sweepstakes, and gifts.

In a new cover story out this month, our colleagues at Consumer Reports take an in-depth look at how these fraudsters are targeting elderly victims around the country, detailing the stories of individual victims as well as outlining steps that can help consumers protect themselves and their loved ones against this kind of fraud.

Quick tips for seniors and their family members that can help combat elder scams
1. Stop robocalls: Using a free service like Nomorobo, which is available to consumers with VoIP service with select providers. A whitelist call blocker device that blocks numbers that aren’t programmed into it can also be useful. If someone from an unknown number calls, don’t press to connect to a representative, just hang up; responding shows that a live person is there and that may generate more calls.

2. Have someone help pay the bills:: Create a shared bank account with a trusted friend or family member, and arrange to transfer only enough funds every month to pay off bills, and not say, send $10,000 to someone in Costa Rica who’s claiming your nephew is in prison and needs the bail money. Getting to know the tellers and other other workers at the local bank or credit union can also come in handy, as they could sniff out suspicious activity on an account.

3. Set up an emergency plan: Temporary hospitalization or permanent incapacity are just two reasons someone may not be able to control his or her own finances. Give power of attorney to someone trusted and financially secure. The power-of-attorney document can be drawn up with limits, such as assigning a relative or friend to monitor the person with power of attorney; mandating a periodic written report of financial transactions; or assigning joint powers of attorney, which requires two signatures on every check.

For more information and resources you can use to fight elder scams from spreading, check out Consumer Reports’ cover story “Lies, Secrets, and Scams: How to Prevent Elder Abuse”.

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.