In my work as a Daily Money Manager, I meet with people who have set up auto-payments on their credit cards and have no idea about the source of several charges. In an audit of 20 new clients, I had only 1 that did’t have a variety of charges on their credit account they couldn’t explain. As we investigate those charges, they realize they were for things they don’t use, or worse, never recalled subscribing to.
What’s the harm? Over the course of a year, it’s typically over one thousand dollars. In a few cases this year, I had clients who it was costing several thousands dollars a year. Charities, face creams, supplements, a shipping service, iTunes/App subscriptions … it’s easy to get lost in the list of charges. The scammers are crafty.
The most frustrating are the charities. I find that many clients don’t realize they were giving to a charity every month. This usually happens to those that respond to phone solicitors. Somewhere in the conversation, you might have agreed to make the donation every month.
You hate to tell someone to cancel funding a good cause, however, many of the people I work with need to focus on funding their care for the rest of their lives, and that few hundred dollars a month can make a big difference over the coming years.
I get it! Life is busy. I have set up and use auto-debits, but in particular for credit cards, I set it at a modest amount so that if I miss the payment, I have at least met the minimum payment. This forces me to review my bills every month to make sure no nefarious charges are showing up. If I don’t recognize something, I call the phone number that is listed on the bill.
If you see something, do something! In the end, you will be rewarded for your efforts.
While there is a lot of coverage for the inbound phone scams, I almost got sucked into one that I had called.
When my mom passed away, I dialed the contact number to reach her personal insurance agent. While the number is ringing, I decide to also check my email but am surprised when I’m prompted to press “1” if I am over 50. I wait for the next option which turns out to be a request for discounted insurance. I’m starting to think I dialed the wrong number and hang up. I dial the number again and pay close attention. I am not greeted with “Welcome to New York Life” but hear a general greeting, then am again asked to press “1” if I’m over 50.
Apparently, someone bought the direct number for my mom’s insurance agent. I didn’t stay on long enough to find out who it was, but thought what they did was both brilliant and sneaky.
It was a simple reminder about how easy it is to get fooled. I’m thinking I’m calling my mother’s insurance agent, and had I not paid close attention, I could have provided a host of information about her that could lead to an unscrupulous person being able to steal her identity.
In general, most of us are overwhelmed by the calls coming to us. There are several ways to help protect yourselves.
It’s discouraging to find out that they agency managing the National Do Not Call Registry admits it has failed consumers. The scammers don’t play by the rules, and now technology helps them spoof the caller ID leaving me to ignore any call I don’t recognize.
Some options to help block the INCOMING calls include:
- Sign up for a automated service for your landline to block calls. Nomorobo is free service I can get from my local carrier, Verizon. The Nomorobo website can help you find out if you can get their free service in your area. I implemented it at home and it has made a big difference. When we moved in nearly two decades ago, we opted for the unlisted number–that USED to work at keeping callers at bay.
- If you can’t get a service like Nomorobo, you can purchase a call blocking device like Sentry 2 that lets you blacklist numbers. It does require that you tag calls to the “blacklist” to block, and you can also add numbers and only get calls from those on your “whitelist”. It can fill the need but does require assistance to be effective.
- Don’t answer the phone if you don’t recognize the number. When you answer, they know they have a valid number. Asking to be removed, or selecting the dial option they offer typically won’t yield a positive results.
- Sign up for “Anonymous Call Rejection” with your local carrier. It will reject calls from anyone that has blocked their caller ID information. It is usually something you can enable using *77 but varies by provider.
THE NEXT SCAM COMING
There is a new model of scams coming in as voicemail. Your phone will not ring, but a message will be left in your message center. Because there is some consideration to mandate technology to block the spoofed calls, the “no ring voicemail” is the next tool in the fraudster toolkit.
It’s discouraging that we have to be so protective of our personal information. Unfortunately, the consequences of not being our own best advocate can be financially and emotionally devastating. Scammers stink.
Any family helping or caring for someone with mild cognitive impairment or dementia should consider the addition of an “Umbrella” policy.
In a Kiplinger article titled Why You Need an Umbrella Policy, they share that “adding extra liability coverage to your auto- and homeowners-insurance policies can protect your finances from expensive lawsuits.” Umbrella policies are designed “to help protect you from major claims and lawsuits and as a result it helps protect your assets and your future. It does this in two ways: Provides additional liability coverage above the limits of your homeowners, auto, and boat insurance policies.”
In the early stages of my parent’s dementia, when they didn’t quite recognize they were having trouble, I helped my dad add an Umbrella policy to their coverage. They had auto- and homeowners insurance, but I was concerned that the might be responsible for something that would jeopardize their retirement savings. I figured they would need every penny of their money to pay for their care.
One issue we faced early was that my dad was driving without a valid license. Their doctor had submitted the paperwork to have both of my parents licenses revoked. For some reason, they only thought my dad had his license revoked, even though they both received a letter. They practiced what they would tell the police if they were pulled over. I was pretty sure the auto-insurance wouldn’t cover them since their licenses were revoked, so I prayed that nothing would happen. If it did, I hoped the umbrella insurance would help protect their assets to pay for the years of care they would be needing.
Later, at a happy hour at my parent’s retirement community, my dad fell over onto a woman and sent her to the ER. Thankfully, she knew my dad and she nor her family pursued a lawsuit. However, I could only imagine how quickly all of their assets could disappear in legal fees and an award.
If you are are caregiver, two things to do to protect your loved one and their assets:
- Contact your insurance agent and have an open discussion about your concerns to find the type of policy that could best protect you and your loved ones.
- Contact your estate lawyer. A Trust might be a solution to help protect your assets …. but I’m NOT a lawyer …. so please find a local elder care attorney who can help you navigate the coming years.
Dementia is a cruel beast and it steals so much from the individuals it preys upon, and the loved ones caring for them. I hope the suggestion on how to deal with practical issues to protect your loved ones will help you and your family.
If you are caring for a loved one with dementia, you can visit the my other blog DealingWithDementia.org.
The ongoing saga of data breaches means that criminals have access to at least bits and pieces of our digital footprint. When Yahoo was attacked, they recently disclosed in October that over 3 billion user accounts were compromised. I think we were all shocked when the Experian data breach hit the news. However, it’s up to us to take ownership of our personal information.
First, as the continued breaches prove, we need to make sure we aren’t using the same usernames and passcodes since the crooks use these to break into other online services you use. To learn more about how this could impact you, read the Harvard Business Review
article You Can’t Secure 100% of Your Data 100% of the Time
Whether you still aspire to follow the Japanese Art of Decluttering, or have moved onto the Swedish Death Cleaning craze, this one tool will help you make progress toward your 2018 goals.
What about Passcode Keepers? These can be great time savers, as long as you use one that lets you print out a list of your current passcodes. Should you forget your passcode, or if a loved one needs to help you, without access to your codes you are making life very difficult for someone in a shared household — or for those who step forward to help you.
I was told NOT to write down passcodes, isn’t that a security issue? At work, where you have an IT department that can reset your codes, I understand that guidance. At home, where I share multiple accounts with my husband (AT&T, Itunes, and our banking and finance accounts), having access to a written list is critical to handling our shared lives.
Best wishes for a peaceful and organized 2018!
I wonder how hard thieves must work to come up with some of the depraved ways they target victims. In Northern Virginia, they have started to pick-pocket older adults at doctor’s offices and at the hospital.
I hope that by now, you have made copies of what is in your wallet. Should it get lost or stolen, you have a quick and easy way to cancel or freeze your credit cards and know what needs to get replaced. Most of us have a home printer and it takes 2 minutes to copy everything in your wallet. I recommend you use color and consider enlarging the images so they are easier to read.
Here are some tips from the police to avoid becoming victims to pickpocketers:
- Keep all your personal items in your front pockets
- Zip, fasten, and close your purse
- Report any suspicious people or events
- Make sure your elderly loved ones are accompanied by a trusted family member or friend
The number of institutions that have our data and that been hacked is only growing. The reality is that a lot of our personal information has probably been sold or can be found on the “dark web” used by these crooks.
We have the ability to defend our selves — the fact is that most people don’t do the basics to help themselves. In my role as a Daily Money Manager, I have stop being shocked by the number of auto-debits from subscription services my clients aren’t using and often don’t even know about that are on their credit card statements. To make bill-paying easy they set up auto-payments to make sure the bill got paid. However, that using results in the habit of ignoring the monthly review of your statement.
I also don’t recommend that you set up auto-debits from your checking account either. Instead of giving what amounts to a limited “power of attorney” to come into your account and take out the money you owe, set up automated payments you PUSH OUT from the account using the bill pay portal. While these direct from your checking account systems work well for many American’s, I was behind a man at the bank who had set this up for his mortgage. The payments kept being pulled after he sold his home and now he couldn’t pay his new mortgage. He was told that they only way to stop it was to close down his bank account. What a headache.
I had a similar issue with a charity pulling money from a clients’ account and thankfully, we were able to have them voluntarily terminate the automated transfer. It took MANY phone calls and follow-ups, but finally they stopped. It was a reputable charity, but they have little incentive to respond to requests to terminate donations.
Three things you can do to make sure you don’t become a victim of fraud is:
- Religiously review your credit card statements and address issues immediately.
- Monitor your checking account and balance your checkbook. I’ve seen a check for $2,000 debited for $3,000.
- Check your credit reports at least once a year and report any inaccuracies. If you aren’t at a point in your life to need credit, I would consider freezing or locking your credit. To learn more about that you can view this article.
A final step to protect yourself is to make sure you are not using your DEBIT card for any online purchases. Only use a Credit Card that offers the fraud protections should your card number be compromised.
You have the power to protect yourself, but it requires your attention.
Given the number of breeches, especially for a loved one that doesn’t need to open a line of credit, it’s time to either put a FRAUD ALERT or a SECURITY (Credit) FREEZE in place.
Fraud Alert tells creditors they need to take reasonable extra-steps to confirm that it is you asking for credit. It lasts for 90 days and includes a free credit report.
Security Freeze locks your credit and requires action (and for now $10 to lift the freeze or re-freeze it) on your part to access credit. It took me about 30 minutes to do it online for all three. Be forewarned, you will have to be able to bring up past credit history and addresses — which is why I am an advocate of having one place for writing it all down. A great tool (it’s my book) can be found on Amazon.
I choose to use a Security Freeze for myself since I don’t foresee many situations in which I will be applying for credit in the coming years. Here are some links to each of three big bureaus:
Equifax Link to Freeze your credit: https://www.freeze.equifax.com
Experian Security Freeze: https://www.freeze.equifax.com ($10.00 fee)
Transunion Security Freeze: https://www.transunion.com/ ($10.00 fee)
Watch out for the upsell. Many of the sites will try to get you to buy their monitoring services. I don’t recommend those because I have found they just make you more concerned and the truth is that you have the ability to put the protections in place for free or a minimal cost.
To view the story on the report from Consumer Reports, click here.
Please let me know what you chose and what you found if you initiated one of these services. Protected.