By the end of the year, an estimated 1.92 billion people will be digital buyers. That means around 25% of everyone on the planet shops online. With that many consumers on the web, it’s no surprise that criminals are flocking to the digital space, too. You can fight back against the hackers and frauds who may try to steal from you with a few precautions and common sense. Protect your wallet when shopping online by paying attention to the tips below:
Monitor Your Accounts
Proactively monitoring your financial accounts (such as bank and credit card statements) can help you catch errors and spot potential fraud at the first sign.
Always Think Before You Click
To avoid infecting your computer or mobile device with malicious software, never click on a link to a deal or special savings on a social networking site or in an unsolicited email.
Avoid Public Wi-Fi
Online purchases require transmitting your credit card, bank account information, or other financial information over the internet. Using a public Wi-Fi connection to do so puts that sensitive information at risk. Hackers can tap into unsecured Wi-Fi connections at hotspots like coffee shops and airport terminals to capture it without you knowing. The new, more secure EMV chip cards do not protect against this kind of fraud.
Finally, take action if you hear about a data breach or other fraud that could affect your accounts by changing your passwords.
You, or someone you know, could become the victim of a growing crime in America — financial abuse of older Americans. Seniors are increasingly becoming targets for financial abuse. As people over 50 years old control over 70 percent of the nation's wealth, fraudsters are using new tactics to take advantage of retiring baby boomers and the growing number of older Americans. Senior financial abuse is estimated to have cost victims at least $2.9 billion last year alone.
Over the next two decades, Minnesota's 65 and older population will increase by 72 percent. In 2017, one in nine seniors reported being abused, neglected, or exploited. Law enforcement, advocacy groups, and Minnesota bankers are working together to prevent financial exploitation of our state's seniors, and you can help, too!
Seniors are extremely vulnerable to financial swindle due to isolation, cognitive decline, physical limitations, health problems and/or recent loss of a loved one or friends. With their significant assets, equity in their homes and steady incomes from retirement funds, older adults are prime targets for scam artists, including scammers operating on the internet, telemarketing, home repair, financial advisers and fiduciaries, and people holding powers of attorney. Unfortunately, many times family members and caretakers can take advantage of seniors in their vulnerable state.
In order to help, you need to first, understand what financial exploitation is. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines elder financial abuse as "the illegal, unauthorized, or improper use of an older individual's resources by a caregiver or other person in a trusting relationship, for the benefit of someone other than the older individual." Common examples include forgery, misuse or theft of money or possessions, and use of coercion or deception to surrender finances or property.
The exploiter may describe themselves as “family caregivers”, while the truth is that they are dependent on their victims for financial assistance, housing and other support. This risk further increases when the exploiter knows where important papers are and has access to person information such as social security numbers or pin numbers.
Financial exploitation can happen in many ways. A person may have the legal authority to manage someone’s money but makes unauthorized expenditures of a vulnerable adult’s funds, or fails to use the funds for his/her food, clothing, shelter, health care or supervision. It could also be a person that has no legal authority but disposes of money or property anyway.
Financial institutions are on the front lines to help stop financial abuse of senior citizens, identifying irregularities in a customer’s financial activity and reporting it to the appropriate authorities. We all need to work together to stop this injustice.
Learn to recognize the red flags of financial abuse. Keep a close watch on your elderly family members and friends and look for signs such as unusual spending or withdrawal patterns, frequent purchases of unusual or out-of-character items, unpaid bills and/or utilities being turned off, or the presence of a new "best friend" who is accepting generous "gifts" from the older adult.
Erratic or unusual banking transactions or change in banking patterns could include any of the following:
- Frequent large withdrawals, including daily maximum cash withdrawals from ATM’s
- Abnormal nonpayment for normal services, such as utilities and insurance, indicating a loss of funds or access to funds
- Debit transactions that are not normal for an older adult
- Uncharacteristic attempts to wire large sums of money
- Closing of CDs or accounts without regard to penalties
- A caregiver or other individual showing interest in the older adult’s finances or assets
- An individual not allowing the older adult to speak for him/herself
- A caregiver not willing to allow the older adult to have a conversation alone
- The older adult shows unusual degree of fear or submissiveness toward a caregiver
- The older adult expresses fear of eviction or nursing home placement if money is not given to the caretaker
- The financial institution is unable to speak directly with the older adult, despite repeated attempts to contact the person
- A new family member, caretaker, or friend suddenly begins conducting financial transactions on behalf of the older adult without proper documentation
- The older adult abandons current relationship in exchange for new “friends”
- A sudden change in the elder’s financial management, such as a new power of attorney or a new family member or individual, and
- The older adult lacks knowledge about his/her financial status or shows a reluctance to discuss financial matters.
If you witness any of these signs of red flags, you should contact the authorities, so the situation can be investigated and the exploitation be stopped.
Unfortunately, in most cases the abuser is someone the elderly person knows and trusts. Many times the perpetrator is a family member. They may express feeling that the elderly person's belongings are rightfully theirs. The abuser may have financial difficulties such as a tendency to gamble. They may also express fears that the victim will "use up" all of their savings and deprive the perpetrator of an inheritance. Non-relatives may move from community to community in order to avoid detection. They may also try to gain access to elderly persons by masquerading as a counselor or by finding a job as a caretaker.
Below is a list of commonly reported forms of financial exploitation reported to Adult Protective Services agencies. These could be done by a person the senior knows and trusts or a stranger.
- Theft: involves assets taken without knowledge, consent or authorization; may include taking of cash, valuables, medications or other personal property.
- Fraud: involves acts of dishonestly by persons entrusted to manage assets but appropriates assets for unintended uses; may include falsification of records, forgeries, unauthorized check-writing, and Ponzi-type financial schemes.
- Real Estate: involves unauthorized sales, transfers or changes to property title(s); may include unauthorized or invalid changes to estate documents.
- Contractor: includes building contractors or handymen who receive payment(s) for building repairs, but fail to initiate or complete project; may include invalid liens by contractors.
- Lottery scams: involves payments (or transfer of funds) to collect unclaimed property or “prizes” from lotteries or sweepstakes.
- Electronic: includes “phishing” e-mail messages to trick persons into unwittingly surrendering bank passwords; may include faxes, wire transfers, telephonic communications.
- Mortgage: includes financial products which are unaffordable or out-of-compliance with regulatory requirements; may include loans issued against property by unauthorized parties.
- Investment: includes investments made without knowledge or consent; may include high-fee funds (front or back-loaded) or excessive trading activity to generate commissions for financial advisors.
- Insurance: involves sales of inappropriate products, such as a thirty-year annuity for a very elderly person; may include unauthorized trading of life insurance policies.
If you suspect that elder financial abuse or exploitation has occurred, you should contact your local authorities or your local Adult Protective Services agency.
There are simple steps that can be taken to safeguard personal information and protect aging men and women from financial abuse. Below are a few:
- Plan ahead to protect your assets and to ensure your wishes are followed. Talk to someone at your financial institution, an attorney, or financial advisor about the best options for you.
- Shred receipts, bank statements and unused credit card offers before throwing them away.
- Carefully choose a trustworthy person to act as your agent in all estate-planning matters.
- Lock up your checkbook, account statements and other sensitive information when others will be in your home.
- Order copies of your credit report once a year to ensure accuracy.
- Never pay a fee or taxes to collect sweepstakes or lottery “winnings.”
- Never rush into a financial decision. Ask for details in writing and get a second opinion.
- Consult with a financial advisor or attorney before signing any document you don’t understand.
- Get to know your banker and build a relationship with the people who handle your finances. They can look out for any suspicious activity related to your account.
- Check references and credentials before hiring anyone. Don’t allow workers to have access to information about your finances.
- Pay with checks and credit cards instead of cash to keep a paper trail.
- Feel free to say “no.” After all, it’s your money.
- You have the right not to be threatened or intimidated. If you think someone close to you is trying to take control of your finances, call your local Adult Protective Services or tell someone at your bank.
- Trust your instincts. Exploiters and abusers often are very skilled. They can be charming and forceful in their effort to convince you to give up control of your finances. Don’t be fooled—if something doesn’t feel right, it may not be right. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Remember: Never give personal information, including Social Security Number, account number or other financial information to anyone over the phone unless you initiated the call and the other party is trusted.
New Year, New Me, right? We’re well into the new year and you may have dropped your New Year’s Resolution to become financially fit. Don’t despair. It’s still early in the new year and a great time to clean up your financials, adopt better spending habits, and start saving more. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
Make a budget and stick with it
This almost cliché financial advice is repeated so often for one important reason: it works. Start by tracking your spending, once you’ve tracked how much money you spend over the course of a few weeks, you can look for trends in what you’re spending. These trends help you start planning on how much income goes towards necessities (like rent/mortgage, utilities, groceries), and see areas where you can cut back (rarely-used subscription services, eating out less) and start putting away a portion of your income towards a savings goal. The most important part of a budget is sticking with it, once you start tracking your spending you should make sure to take time every day or every few days to log your spending and compare that to your planned spending.
Deal with any debt
Debt is an extremely stressful thing to deal with but the new year is a time to get a handle on any debt that may have piled up around the holidays. Debt should be something factored into your budget like your electric bill and tracked. Although it may be daunting, contact your creditors to discuss your situation, they may be willing to work with you to put together a repayment plan. If you're carrying debt on multiple credit cards, talk to your local bank about the possibility of consolidating that debt into a single payment so you can close the extra card accounts. No matter what you do, addressing debt instead of ignoring it will help you get a handle on it and make positive progress.
Many times people will stick with whatever they find first, be it their internet provider, car insurance, or brand of soup, but that may not be the best deal, especially a few years down the line. There’s nothing wrong with being loyal to a company but just because they’ve been your cable provider for a few years isn’t necessarily a good reason to stay with them and doesn’t ensure that you are getting the best value for what you are paying. Look around to see what other companies are charging for similar services, you may find that your current company is priced competitively or you may find that you can get a better deal elsewhere. One thing to beware of is a cheaper product or service that is cheaper for a reason, make sure you are still getting a similar quality or ask yourself if you are ok with a downgrade.
Making a commitment to financial health and wellness can be a great way to start the New Year on good footing that can last throughout the year and your life.