Laurie Samuels: Don’t let retirement make you vulnerable to senior scams
BY LAURIE SAMUELS Guest columnist July 18, 2014 7:52PM
Updated: August 21, 2014 6:55AM
Fraud is one of the fasting growing crimes in America — with senior citizens being common targets.
In fact, the U.S. Office of Consumer Affairs attributes approximately $100 billion a year to fraud. In this age of information, anyone in possession of a credit card, bank account or Social Security number is susceptible to the misuse of their private information. Although all are vulnerable to fraud, this article gives special attention to protecting our senior citizens from predatory crime.
According to the FBI, scam artists target seniors because they are likely to have greater financial resources and accessibility to benefits, own their homes, and/or have excellent credit. Seniors are also less likely to check their accounts and financial information — making it easier for questionable activity to go unnoticed. Criminal minds are undeniably clever, but there are certainly some measures that seniors can take to prevent victimization.
Prevention of identity theft requires awareness of the most common types and knowledge of how to avoid being a target. The most common types of identity theft encountered by seniors include purse or wallet theft that often holds Social Security cards or Medicare cards (which also contain Social Security numbers). Thieves also obtain account numbers from discarded banking and credit card statements.
Seniors should refrain from carrying confidential information, unless absolutely necessary for doctor’s appointments or business purposes. Otherwise, seniors should keep important documents under lock and key and get in the practice of shredding documents with account numbers once there is no longer a need for the pertinent material. It is also a good idea to regularly monitor credit reports and financial statements. Some may consider issuing a security freeze on reports to prevent credit and loans from being approved without consent. Interestingly, the Cook County recorder of deeds has created a property fraud alert. It is a free service that notifies citizens anytime documents are recorded that matches their criteria.
The Illinois attorney general attributes more leisure time and isolation as chief contributors to elder abuse. For instance, retirees are no longer employed and may now have time to respond to junk mail and take telemarketing calls. Seniors also tend to spend a considerable amount of time alone and for that reason can be more welcoming to visitors. The Illinois attorney general’s office states home repair fraud, financial exploitation and sweepstakes, prizes and contests as other common scams aimed at seniors.
Sadly, senior fraud is not committed solely by strangers. Family members and home health aides have been found guilty of engaging in unscrupulous behavior. Nevertheless, abuse by family members is rarely reported to law enforcement. It is quite difficult to convince a great aunt to report her great nephew – especially when she states that she is reliant on him to transport her to doctor appointments, the grocery store and assist with other daily activities.
If you suspect that you or your loved one is a victim of senior fraud, contact the attorney general’s senior citizens consumer fraud hotline at (800) 243-5377 or (800) 964-3013 (TTY) or the Cook County Elder Justice Center at (312) 603-9233.
Laurie Samuels is a retirement income
consultant and estate planning attorney in Illinois. Her boutique firm specializes in protecting and maximizing retirement accounts and other assets. Abednego Wealth Management can be reached at (888) 633-6119.