As you or your loved ones grow older, it important to keep in mind that the elderly are a demographic that is highly targeted by scams. Often in our later years we have savings, property and other assets which make us tempting targets for those with bad intentions. It is sad to think that we cannot always trust those around us, especially those who present themselves in a trustworthy way, but some cautious savvy can protect us from what can be a traumatic and costly experience.
A scam refers to a type of fraud that can come in many forms, but ultimately describes a scheme in which a scammer or scammers will attempt to dupe or coerce their victim into volunteering money or personal information for their own financial gain. The scammer’s goal will be either direct payment from you, assets in your possession, or your personal information with the intention of committing identity theft, for example by taking out a credit card in your name with the information they obtained.
Scams can be directed at more vulnerable elderly people as they are more likely to live alone, they may be lonely and therefore more susceptible to social manipulation. Particular risk is for those in the early stages of dementia who may be more easily confused or misguided, and more likely to make irrational financial decisions, although anyone can be exploited if they do not think cautiously. Forewarned is forearmed!
As technology has advanced, more avenues of attack are available for scammers, but we can protect ourselves by watching out for warning signs of scams and practising some judicial habits. Here we’ll look at the different ways a scammer might make their attempt, and how to protect ourselves in each area.
If you receive a letter from a business, organisation, charity or person that you don’t know, it is always best to be suspicious. Examples of scam letters might be the promise of a large cash prize following payment of a transfer fee, a letter telling you that you’ve won a competition that you did not enter, a sales pitch for an insurance policy that you did not solicit, or an emotional plea for help from someone you don’t know. Scam letters can even pose as a letter from your own bank or someone you are connected to – never respond with personal information or payment without verifying directly. These letters can come in many forms, and may often present with a sense of urgency. As a first reaction always show the letter you have received to a loved one or trusted friend for a second opinion. Even if you do not intend to respond, share the letter with others so that others know you may have been targeted. Never make a payment for something you have not received, or to any person or body that you are not totally familiar with. Ask yourself, how can I be sure this is what it appears to be?
When a scammer approaches us by telephone, or “cold calling”, speaking directly to a person can lead us to feel more pressured, or to be instinctively more trusting. Remember, your bank, insurance company or utility company will never ask for sensitive information over the phone and a reputable professional will not put you under pressure to make decisions on the spot. Always take details of any offer and the name of the caller. Take time to do more research about the company you spoke to. Share your experience with a trusted person. Any authentic caller will be happy for you to take your time and check their credentials. If in doubt it is always acceptable to say “No, thanks.” and hang up the phone.
E-mail scams may also present as any of the examples listed above, but there are extra pit-falls to be mindful of. An email can contain links that are dangerous to click on. For example an email might contain a link that you are instructed to click on for a seemingly innocent reason but that once clicked will provide means for a computer virus to be installed on your computer. Equally an email might contain a link to a website that appears to be valid but is not. Look out for spelling mistakes, mysterious enticements (“you’ll never imagine what you’ll see if you follow the link!”) or offers of freebies. Never fill out a form with your passwords, account numbers or any other personal information if you have followed a link from an email. If you receive an email from a friend that doesn’t seem in character their email account may well have been compromised. Let your friend know what you received in person and do not trust the email. They can report the security breach to their email provider.
On Your Doorstep
If a person arrives on your doorstep they might absolutely have honest intentions but it is best to take care and never assume, even if they appear to be in uniform, or smartly dressed. If someone offers any kind of service, ask for their identification and information about the organisation they work for and tell them you need time to think. If a professional person wants to enter your home without prior contact from the company they represent, ask them to return on another day. Once again, communicate what has happened with someone you trust and fully investigate before deciding a service is legitimate. Do not pay for anything in advance and if considering any kind of investment try to approach the company directly to confirm the offer and confirm their representative.
What Else Can We Do?
If you fear that you or a loved one may be vulnerable to scammers, and especially if you feel you may have already been targeted, speak with your bank to see what protective measures they can offer, such as SMS alerts or security delays if unusual payments are made. Ask where you can report what has happened and if a victim, make immediate contact with the police to make sure steps are taken stop the scammers in their tracks, protecting others from falling victim too.
Open communication is the key here. Often people who have been targeted feel ashamed or intimidated and hide what has happened, so eliminating this stigma by recognising how common such scams can be and getting second opinions before making new purchases or investment decisions is a great way to protect ourselves and others against these dangers.