How Boomers Can Protect Themselves from Financial Scams


It takes decades of hard work and discipline to ensure a financially secure retirement, and it can all be taken away in an instant.

Thanks to the internet, financial fraud is on the rise, and many scammers are setting their sights on the elderly.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, an estimated 25.6 million adults--10.8% of the adult population--were fraud victims in 2011.

Marion Somers, elder care expert and founder of LivingSafer.TV, recently launched a campaign to raise awareness about elderly scams and shared the following tips to keep boomers and senior citizens’ hard-earn nest eggs safe. Here’s what she had to say:

Boomer: Who are these scammers, and why do they target older individuals?

Somers: Boomers/seniors are often more vulnerable to fraud because they're more trusting and aren't always as informed about potential scams. At their age and stage of life, they are also perceived to be sitting on more money than younger people. Many live alone, which makes them a perfect target. Seniors also are sometimes reluctant to report a scam, whether they're embarrassed or worried that their friends or family will doubt their ability to live independently - so perpetrators think they're more likely to get away with it.

In many cases, the abusers are total strangers cold calling or sending emails in the hopes of hooking someone. But sometimes the scammers are people the victims know: friends or family members taking advantage of lonely, trusting seniors. In other cases, a scammer will befriend a senior and over time gain access to their trusted information and documents (also known as a "sweetheart" scam).

To avoid losing money:

•Never give out any personal information. This is not just about keeping your bank account or Social Security number private. You should also protect your health insurance and Medicare accounts.

Always get contracts/deals in writing. Whether it's a phone call asking for a charitable donation or offering a free product, or a repairman knocking on your door, always ask them to send you the information in writing. Then, do your homework to make sure they're legitimate.•Keep a watchful eye on your finances. Check your bank account, your retirement fund statements, even your frequent flyer mile accounts frequently. Make sure things are as they should be. Report anything that looks amiss.

•Educate yourself. There are many scams out there, and the best thing you can do is be aware of as many as possible.

It's also important for boomers who are caring for an aging parent to work closely with their loved ones and to talk about finances. This can happen to you, or to someone you love. Take care to notice if they're suddenly withdrawing large sums of money, making large donations or changing any legal documents without a discussion. Place notes on their phone and computer reminding them to keep personal information private.

Boomer: With the busiest shopping season of the year upon us, what additional steps should be taken to protect against scammers?

Somers: One of the worst scams that occurs during the holidays are related to charitable giving. This is a time of year when we're feeling generous--and scammers zero in on that giving spirit. In particular, financial predators often use major diseases to try and tug at your heartstrings, as many seniors will have experienced a loss of a friend of family member due to cancer or another common illness.

Again, the key is not to react on the spot. Take down information about the charity or organization, research it and only act if it is indeed legitimate. The same goes for what seems like a shopping deal that's too good to be true, or "free" products that a senior might think would make a great gift. Be skeptical, and take the time to look into it first.

Boomer: Home repair scams and “robo calls” seem to be on the rise. How do we stay safe?

Somers: Knowing that these scams exist is an important first step. For home repairs, never let someone into your home who knocks on your door unsolicited because they "noticed you MIGHT need some repairs." Always get an estimate in writing, then ask around to see if anyone has used the company. If you don't know anyone in the area, check in with your local senior center, community center or religious institution for a recommendation. It's also important to get a second opinion from a trusted source like the Better Business Bureau when evaluating a company or contractor.

When it comes to robo calls, the first thing I tell everyone to do is get caller ID! Hang up immediately on any automated calls, or don't even answer unfamiliar numbers. If it's a live person on the other end, ask them to mail you information. Never give them any personal information or agree to anything on the phone.

Boomer: What is the banking industry doing to protect boomers/seniors against fraud?

Somers: Some financial institutions are very good about alerting their customers about unusual activity or even putting a hold on certain transactions if they seem suspicious. But they could be doing even more.

The banking industry needs to understand that this is more of an epidemic than ever before. Our population is older than it ever has been, and scammers are getting more sophisticated every day. In fact, there's already a new wave of scams around the Affordable Care Act, offering to help seniors by sending them a new "Obamacare" card if they share their Medicare info over the phone.

Seniors lose billions of dollars each year to scams, so getting the banks to step it up even more in terms of educating seniors and their families and being extra vigilant about identifying warning signs, like when a new co-signer is added to an account or withdrawals are becoming more frequent or erratic in any way. Many seniors also still do their banking the old-fashioned way - in person - which means that bank personnel should be trained to be aware of potential red flags, and know who to contact if they suspect anything suspicious. Bank managers can even put a hold on case withdrawals, encouraging the use of checks for withdrawals instead, which creates a paper trail that can be easily tracked - and more easily noticed by a bank teller if things look off.