Financial abuse costs seniors billions of dollars a year.
All across the country, seniors are the victims of scams, fraud, and other types of financial abuse. Seniors are targeted in all kinds of ways. A scammer on the phone pretends to be law enforcement and says you will be arrested if you do not pay unpaid fines for missing jury duty. A family member helps themselves your savings account. An insurance agent convinces you to buy an annuity that ties up your money with no benefit to you.
Luckily, there are ways to protect yourself and your assets from many kinds of financial abuse.
1. Use smart financial planning to protect your assets.
Use a trusted financial planner to create a financial plan for you. If you own a home, make sure your equity is protected. If you have debts, make sure you have a plan for how to address them. Beware of any new financial “experts” who pressure you to buy financial products, such as reverse mortgages, or change your existing plans. Create a Durable Power of Attorney to appoint a trusted agent who can manage your finances for you if you are incapacitated.
2. Think twice giving family members access to your accounts.
Many people want family members to help them with their finances, or to be able to have access to accounts after they pass away. However, if you put your family member as a joint owner of a bank account, for example, then technically they own that money too and can take it all for themselves. The same goes for a house. If you put someone else as joint owner of the house, or transfer it to their name, then they are an owner and can go against your wishes for the house. Instead of adding other people to your accounts, create an estate plan so you can get your affairs in order without giving others people access to your accounts. If you want someone to manage money for you, you can make them your Durable Power of Attorney or your representative payee for social security.
3. Guard against scammers.
There are a lot of scammers targeting seniors. Be on the lookout for people asking for money. Beware of people pressuring you into giving them money or threatening you. Stop and think before you invest in “amazing opportunities.” If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is! When in doubt, hang up the phone and consult someone about it. You can call us if you’re not sure if something is a scam. Remember, scammers may be in person, on the phone, or sending emails.
4. Protect your identity.
Your social security number, date of birth, driver’s license or state ID number, and credit card number. Identity thieves love these pieces of information and will work hard to try to get them. Once a fraudster has your information, they can take out loans, rack up credit card debt, and wreak havoc on your credit. Be sure to check your credit report with all three agencies, which you can do for free once a year. There are three major agencies: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. This means you can check your credit report every four months for free with one of the three agencies. You should do this to make sure that no one has taken any accounts out in your name.
5. Reach out and ask for help.
Scammers thrive on silence and shame. One of the biggest reasons that scammers and identity thieves are able to steal so much money is that people don’t talk about it until it’s too late. Maybe a senior senses something is wrong, but keep quiet because the scammer says, “Let’s keep this between us.” Or, they might be embarrassed that they fell for a scam and don’t report it. If you’re not sure if something is legitimate, reach out and ask for help! Call a trusted friend, family member, or Contra Costa Senior Legal Services. It is not embarrassing to ask, and it is much better to talk about it than to lose money that could have been saved.