Protecting Yourself Against Consumer Fraud: Avoiding Victimization

Recognize, refuse, and report fraud and scams

Protecting Your Financial Information

Criminals often target older adults knowing they have retirement savings and good credit. — iStock

Protect Your Financial Information

Criminals follow the easy money. They often target older adults knowing they have spent a lifetime saving for retirement. Older adults often own their homes and have good credit in addition to their assets.

  • Be in charge of your financial affairs, have your financial documents in a safe place for quick reference and know how to handle your assets.
  • Do not sign any document until you or someone you trust reads it.
  • Consider direct deposit for any regular monthly income.
  • DO NOT give your personal information (date of birth, credit card number, social security number, bank account numbers) or access to financial information to anyone unless you initiate the contact. Be safe and be particularly suspicious of telemarketers or someone you hardly know who pressures you for money or information.

Recognize Scams That Target Seniors

Telemarketing Calls

  • Best advice is to just say NO, it is difficult to tell if a telemarketing call is legitimate.
  • Request to be removed from the telemarketer’s list.
  • Put your name on the National Do Not Call Registry.
  • Do not give telemarketers any of your personal information or share personal information about family or friends.
  • Do not send money for any reason unless and until you thoroughly investigate the legitimacy of the request.
  • You could ask the caller to send you written material with their company’s name and contact information for your review.
  • Talk to family or friends or someone you trust before you even consider making any large purchase or investment.
  • Post a refusal script near your phone as an easy reminder of how to respond. Example: “Thank you for calling, but I am not interested. Goodbye.”
  • Most importantly, do not become trapped – simply hang up the phone.

See Also: 6 ways to avoid telemarketing fraud

Home Improvement Scams

These crimes are often committed by individuals wanting to do the improvements that day for a very low fee. But when the work is completed the victim discovers the fee is much higher than originally agreed to, or the project was done using inferior materials.

  • Be suspicious if someone comes to the door with an offer to do a home improvement. Quite often the scam artist will quote a low fee for one resident in a neighborhood to create a referral in the area to draw in other victims. Get two or more bids from established businesses that are bonded and licensed reputable contractors for home repair work.
  • Contact the Better Business Bureau or your local Chamber of Commerce to determine  whether the contractor offering to perform the home repair is licensed and reputable.
  • Always insist on referrals and then check them out!
  • Do not allow any work to be done without a written contract with all the pertinent information (completion date, material used and payment schedule that pays for work as it is completed).
  • Be wary of any request for a large down payment before work begins. Instead request a payment schedule that pays for work as it is completed.
  • Protect your possessions. Too often valuable items are discovered missing after the contractors are long gone.

See Also: How to hire a home improvement contractor

Predatory Lending

Older adults are often the targets of unscrupulous lenders whose high-pressure tactics result in high-interest loans that cannot be repaid.

  • Older homeowners are often persuaded to borrow money through home equity loans for home repairs, debt consolidation or to pay health care costs
  • Reverse mortgages may be a way for the older individual to remain in his or her home, but there are fees and other considerations to weigh before signing the forms.
  • Often loans are packed with excessive fees, costly credit insurance, pre-payment penalties and balloon payments. Homeowners may be devastated to find out their inability to repay the loan can result in losing their most valuable assets.
  • Get unbiased information prior to signing loan forms.  Perhaps contact your local legal assistance program or the senior assistance program for referrals.
  • Be especially cautious of cosigning for others and using your home as collateral.

Charity Scams

Many charity scams are perpetrated by individuals who claim to represent legitimate charities. It is better to donate to the charity directly, using an address you obtain from the telephone book or the charity’s website.

  •  Donate only to known charities you have researched and you have heard about. Check out how much collected goes to the cause rather than the administrative  overhead or, worse yet, to the agency doing the fundraising.
  • Be suspicious of what are known as “Badge charities,” those that claim to collect for police officers, fire fighters and veterans. Many of the con artists prey on the patriotism of older donors.

Critical Legal Advice

Estate planning devices may include wills, trusts, powers of attorney, advanced health care directives and joint tenancies. It is important to obtain legal advice in preparing these documents.

Carefully consider the persons whom you designate as being responsible for your well-being when you can no longer do this for yourself.

“Power of Attorney” or POA works well if it contains clear directions that reflect your wishes and vests your care and well-being with a reliable individual. Regrettably, a POA can lead to elder abuse if it grants power to a person with no interest in protecting you.

  • Carefully choose trustworthy people to act as agents, successor trustees or conservators when preparing estate-planning documents.
  • If at any time you feel that a person already designated is not acting in your best interest, you can easily amend or end a power of attorney or revocable trust.
  • Always get legal advice before adding another person’s name to bank or insurance documents.
  • Have an independent financial advisor review finances to spot suspicious transactions.
  • Be cautious of deeding or willing your house or other assets to anyone who promises to take care of you in exchange.
  • Victims can seek assistance from Adult Protective Services (APS) or law enforcement. File a civil lawsuit if there is evidence of mismanagement and the abuser may be required to make restitution to you.
  • Be aware of undue influence where someone isolates you from family and friends and then convinces you to execute estate-planning documents in that person’s favor.
  • You could potentially be financially abused by: conservators, caregivers, agents (acting under durable powers of attorney), trustees, representative payees, financial planners, attorneys, family members and friends.
  • Guardianship is a legal arrangement by which the court declares a person incapable of caring for him or herself. The decision may be limited to “estate” or “person” depending on need and the guardian reports activity back to the court. Guardianship can be an alternative for care in certain circumstances.

 
 IF YOU SEE IT, REPORT IT

Remember, law enforcement and social service agencies cannot be everywhere. It takes all of us to help make sure that those who need protection are safe. If you see abuse or suspect abuse report it! All abuse can be reported in confidence and all of the complaints are investigated.

Intervention can often save the assets, health, dignity or even the life of an older adult. Report fraud or financial exploitation at 1-800-222-4444.


Read Protecting Yourself Against Consumer Fraud part 1: Identifying Fraud


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