Question: I’m retired and want to keep my money safe from fraud or theft. What can I do to secure my money and accounts?
Answer: Unfortunately, retirees often are the target of scammers and con artists because they are most likely to have available cash (a nest egg), own their home and/or have excellent credit. Additionally, older fraud victims are less likely to report financial crimes because they don’t know who to report them to, are too ashamed of having been deceived or don’t know they have been scammed.
Likely the first line of defense against fraud is to be cautious of unfamiliar individuals or companies offering to sell products or provide services you did not specifically request. And be particularly cautious of unsolicited telephone, online or mail offers.
A good rule of thumb is to tell unwanted solicitors you don’t buy from or donate to anyone who calls or visits unannounced and to send you something in writing. In these cases, remember “stranger danger” and be extremely careful.
Another area of concern is identity theft, which is a growing illegal enterprise. To protect yourself, invest in and use a paper shredder to dispose of all receipts or other documents with your credit card numbers or other personal information, such as bank account or Social Security numbers or birth date.
Also, monitor bank and credit card statements closely and do not give out personal information over the phone to someone who initiates contact with you.
If you have not done so already, sign up for direct deposit of retirement, Social Security or benefit checks to prevent them from being stolen from your mailbox. Using direct deposit ensures your money goes right into your account and is protected. Just about all banks and credit unions offer free direct deposit services.
Fraud can be easily perpetrated when someone else has custody of your assets, including financial advisers and, unfortunately, in some cases, relatives. Most reputable financial advisers will use a third party custodian to hold your assets. That means your accounts would be opened at a large and usually well-known financial services firm. The adviser would be able to place trades and offer service on the account, but it is the custodian who reports transactions directly to you, verifies signatures and much more.
Be alert to telemarketing scams, which often involve offers of free prizes, low-cost vitamins/health care products or inexpensive vacations. Look for telemarketing fraud warning signs such as the caller saying: “You must act now or the offer won’t be good” or “You’ve won a free gift, vacation or prize, but you have to pay for postage and handling” or other charges.
Another warning sign is the caller requiring immediate payment by getting your credit card or bank account numbers, or insisting you have a check ready to be picked up by a courier.
In short, use companies, shop at retailers or contract for services from vendors you know and trust. When searching for a new vendor, be sure to thoroughly investigate the enterprise with the Better Business Bureau and other non-biased consumer review services.
While total security is nearly impossible, you can better protect your finances by being hyper-vigilant and keeping your personal information out of the hands of anyone you don’t know.