Retirees and Financial Scams: How to Protect Yourself
May 15, 2018
By Dan DeMarest, CFP®, CRPC
Vice President, SNB Wealth Management
Con artists frequently target investors aged 50 and older. Why? Because individuals in this age group may be likely to have investments, own a home, and maintain a good credit rating, all of which appeal to criminals.
Here's the good news: Being a target of a scam does not mean you have to end up a victim. Steps you can take to protect yourself include thoroughly researching sizable purchases in advance and staying in control of your money as long as you are able to do so. In addition, watch out for salespeople who prey on your fears. When investing, for example, an investment may be appropriate for you if it complements your risk tolerance and time horizon. Fear of running out of money or a desire to make up for funds that have been lost typically are not good reasons to invest.
It's an unfortunate fact that as you get older, you may also become a more attractive target for con artists. Retirees and pre-retirees may be more likely than younger people to have investments, own a home, and maintain a good credit rating -- all of which appeal to criminals. Taking steps to thwart them may help you preserve the assets you have worked a lifetime to accumulate.
COMMON SENIOR SCAMS
Certain forms of fraud, such as identity theft or credit card theft, can victimize people of any age. But other schemes are designed specifically with older people in mind. You may want to be aware of the following:
1. MEDICARE FRAUD
Manufacturers may offer free medical products in exchange for a consumer's Medicare number. A criminal can use the number to complete a form, obtain certification from an unauthorized doctor, and bill Medicare for reimbursement.
What you can do: Never sign incomplete insurance forms or provide blanket authorization to a medical provider to bill for services. Carefully review benefit statements from insurance companies and call with any questions.
2. IDENTITY THEFT
According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), more than one third of recent complaints made by consumers aged 50 and older related to identity theft. Credit card fraud was the most common form of identity theft complaint, followed by bank fraud and phone or utilities fraud.
What you can do: Shred bills, receipts, and other forms with personal information before tossing. When shopping online, look for evidence that a merchant provides encryption or other forms of Internet security. Check your credit report for errors -- you may obtain a free credit report once a year from each of the three reporting agencies at the authorized Annual Credit Report website.
3. TELEMARKETING FRAUD
Dishonest telemarketers often maintain lists of potential victims and a sizable majority of the names on those lists are likely to be people aged 50 and older. Common tactics may include asking for Social Security or bank account numbers over the phone, pressuring you to make an immediate purchase, and offering phony prizes.
What you can do: Do not purchase anything over the phone unless you initiate the contact. Sign up for the FTC's National Do Not Call Registry to reduce unwanted calls.
4. FAMILY FRAUD
Unscrupulous relatives may try to convince an older family member to give them legal authority to manage the family member's financial affairs. Relatives may spend money, sell assets, and leave the family member impoverished.
What you can do: Retain control of your assets as long as you are able to manage them. If it becomes necessary for a child or other heir to step in, create an accountability system where your designee reports periodically to your attorney or someone else.
5. INVESTMENT FRAUD
Dishonest sales people may try to convince retirees to make investments that are not appropriate given their risk tolerance and time horizon. Warning signs may include offers from people who are not licensed to sell securities, guarantees of high returns, or unregistered investments.
What you can do: Avoid promises of high returns or so-called risk-free investments. Contact the federal Securities and Exchange Commission to find out whether investment professionals are properly licensed.
How to Protect Yourself From Exploitation
Prevention and follow-up can help you avoid being ripped off. The North American Securities Administrators Association, Inc., provides these tips for senior citizens.
- Don't be a "courtesy victim." Scam artists often target people with good manners. Be on your guard with strangers or anyone looking for your money.
- Take the time to research sizable purchases. Decline offers from people who pressure you for an immediate decision.
- Stay in charge of your money. Resist appeals from people who want you to leave everything in their hands.
- Don't be fooled by a professional appearance. Criminals often know how to win someone's trust.
- Watch out for salespeople who prey on your fears. Don't invest or make purchases because you are afraid of running out of money or experiencing a costly illness.
- Don't make rash decisions following a tragedy. Con artists may prey on individuals who have lost a spouse or received an insurance settlement. If you find yourself in this situation, take the time to learn the basics of investing and how you can find a qualified financial advisor to work with you.
- Monitor your investments and ask tough questions. Demand a routine statement of your accounts. Responsible professionals are willing to hold themselves accountable.
- Be suspicious if you have trouble retrieving your principal or cashing out profits. Although some investments have restrictions on withdrawals, you must be told about this before making a purchase.
- Report fraud or abuse to the authorities. Many elderly victims of identity theft do not report their experience to the police. Yet this hesitation to admit being victimized gives a criminal time to scam someone else.
- Beware of reload scams. Don't give a con artist more money if he or she wants to make up for funds that have been lost.
While most people are honest, many criminals may be on the lookout for senior citizens, especially those who are affluent. Knowing what to recognize in con artists can help you stay on the lookout for them and avoid being scammed.