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Protecting Seniors from Financial Scams

Most of us have at least one elderly person in our lives who we care deeply about, whether it’s a parent, a grandparent, or a longtime family friend. While ensuring physical and mental health are often our primary concerns when it comes to the wellbeing of the senior citizens in our lives, it’s worth remembering how frequently senior citizens are targeted by scammers.

Fraudsters often prey on people over the age of 60, targeting them for two main reasons. First, seniors tend to be less technologically savvy than young people and may be more easily fooled. Second, most older people are relatively well off, meaning they’ve often got something worth stealing.

Financial fraud in all forms is utterly loathsome and abhorrent, but perhaps never more so than when it is committed against vulnerable people such as seniors.

You can help the elderly people you love steer clear of financial con artists by educating both yourself and them about the key warning signs to watch for and learning how to handle a suspected scammer when they come your way. Here’s what to know.

Instruct seniors not to share personal information with strangers

Whether it’s by phone, email, text message, or even in person, scammers often try to trick their victims into disclosing sensitive personal information. They’re generally after things such as credit card numbers, bank account details, social insurance or driver’s licence numbers, as well as PINs and passwords.

Some fraudsters may ask pointed personal questions, inquiring about birthdays or the names of children, grandchildren, and pets, in an attempt to access information that could reveal a password.

Educate the seniors in your life of the potential dangers associated with revealing this kind of information and tell them to keep their guard up when dealing with people they don’t know, even if that person claims to represent a legitimate and trusted business such as a bank, a utility company, or even a government agency. Remind them that most reputable businesses will never ask someone to disclose these kinds of details.

Help seniors set strong passwords and teach them the basics of password protection

Some seniors may be tempted to use the same basic password for a variety of different accounts and services. Of course, it’s far safer to use different passwords for everything, and ensure each of them is strong (i.e., one that contains 10 or more characters, including a mix of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters). Finally, remind them to change their passwords at least once or twice a year.

While remembering all those passwords isn’t always easy for any of us, including seniors, make sure they know not to keep passwords written down or stored on a cell phone. While you obviously don’t want to oversimplify the password creation process, there are ways to make them more memorable, such as by using the name of a person or place, then adding a number at the start or end, and changing one letter or number to an associated special character. For instance, you could use $ instead of S, or zero instead of O. Another idea is to use the character associated with a number on a keyboard, choosing ! instead of 1, for example.

Ensure they can always talk to someone they trust

Another reason seniors may fall victim to scams and frauds is social isolation, and a willingness to engage with people who contact them. Even though they’re actually devious and nefarious, scammers often succeed by coming across as smooth and friendly. They may also make promises of guaranteed financial gain, or prey on a senior’s good will by pretending they need help.

One of the best ways to counteract this is by ensuring the senior in your life has at least one person, and ideally two or three, who they can turn to as a reliable sounding board before making any kind of financial decision, including giving money to someone else. The person could be you, another friend, a bank manager, or possibly the family lawyer. Their role is to watch out for suspicious requests and advise against bad decisions.

Let them know it’s okay to say no

Most of us want to please other people, and seniors are no exception. And while kindness isn’t a weakness, it can be exploited. Tell the seniors in your life to remember that it’s perfectly acceptable to turn down requests for financial help or assistance, or offers to buy products or investments, even from people they know. If a senior struggles to give a flat ‘No’ in response to a request, they can always ask for more time to make a final decision and use that time to run the request past their trusted advisor.

Stay on top of statements and records

Finally, make sure seniors regularly monitor their monthly bank statements and credit card bills, looking for any unusual or unfamiliar payments and transactions. It can be easy for any of us to lose track of where our money is going and what we spent it on. Check with your senior’s financial institution to see whether they provide alerts and notifications for irregular or suspicious financial activity.

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