Even Savvy Adults Get Fooled by Imposter Scams

Even Savvy Adults Get Fooled by Imposter Scams

A girlfriend shared how her mom, who she thought was of sound mind, was fooled into thinking that she (my girlfriend) had been kidnapped. They tried to get her mom to a check cashing place to wire money for her release.

Thankfully, her mom navigated it well but it was a quite a traumatic event. Her mom lives in a condo and kept the fraudster on the phone while she went down to the concierge who called the police. However, she was wondering if her mom was really of sound mind if she fell for this.

I confirmed to her that really smart people can be victims of this scam because the fraudsters are so good. In fact the FTC reported that the kidnapping scam is the top “Imposter Scam” for 2017 and cost Americans at least $328 million.

As a Daily Money Manager, I work with older adults in their homes and one of the first things I do is implement a call screening solution. In metro-DC, I can implement Nomorobo which is free service from Verizon. The Nomorobo website can help you find out if you can get their free service in your area.

You will immediately notice the quiet once you implement this feature in your own home.

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.

Two other simple options include:

  1. Sign up for “Anonymous Call Rejection” with your local carrier. This service rejects calls from anyone that has blocked their caller ID information. It is usually something you can enable using *77 but varies by provider.
  2. Never answer the phone if they don’t recognize the number.  Real people trying to reach you will leave a message.

Eventually, I think the FTC might start requiring phone companies to offer more protections for their clients. They have admitted the “Do No Call” list is a total failure. Technology improvements are great … it just stinks that crooks are always looking for ways to separate us from our money. For now, it’s our job to help protect ourselves and our loved ones.

For more on this topic, check out this story:

How to Avoid Becoming a Victim of a Virtual Kidnapping Scam The Washington Post

Why Auto-Debit is a Bad Habit

Why Auto-Debit is a Bad Habit

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.

This is the “set it and forget it” option.

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. It’s up to you to keep a close eye on your credit and finances, if you don’t, someone else may!

Take Control of Your Credit Now.

CreditfraudfreezeGiven 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. 

Could your loved ones be victims of fraud?

Could your loved ones be victims of fraud?

 

Every year, at least $36 Billion is reportedly taken from older Americans, according to the National Council on Aging. The largest segment is “Exploitation” — when businesses, individuals, or charities use pressure tactics or misleading language to lead seniors into financial mistakes. My parents were prayed upon, and the source of the fraud was surprising.

When my parents still lived in their home, they signed two agreements for the same work — one was for a few hundred, and the second was for $5,200. Thankfully, my mom sensed something was wrong and called my sister. I lived near mom and dad so could stop by and found the two contracts for the same work — one that was horrifically over-priced. We were able to cancel the outrageous contract, but I should have also called the police, Adult Protective Services, and the Better Business Bureau. We were so stunned at the time that 1) they could victims of horrible people; 2) thankful we caught it in time that I never circled back to work with the systems in place that could help protect others from this same crime.

The Washington Post carried a story that detailed the depth of the crimes against three local seniors. They were robbed of more than $100,000 by what our local police call “woodchucks”.  They start by offering to trim trees, and if they do return after you have given them a deposit, they usually find a host of other issues to repair. Most of the work is either not needed (roof tile or chimney repair that you can’t see), is done poorly, or never completed.

Holding that checkbook is for many, the last item in helping them feel control over their world. When I started to notice that my parents were writing weekly checks to a variety of charities I had never heard of, my antennae went up. If you read the letters, they are written to make the recipient believe they have already promised a donation. It can be hard to get a handle on this since it feels good to give. However, sometimes it can get out of control.

As a daily money manager, I helped one client who was giving over $2,000 a month to a host of charities she doesn’t even believe in because of the letters and calls coming into her home. He son asked her to keep the donations to under $30, which she did. However, she was writing checks and giving her credit card out nearly 100 times every month.

When we started working on bill pay together, I was able to show her how much money she was giving away and it surprised her. When we started to go through the mail and discussed the charities, she realized she didn’t know what they did or even believe in the mission. After taking these steps, it was easy for her to realize that she needed to reconsider her giving and we came up with a good solution for her.

If you are worried about this with your loved one, start slow. Work in tandem to get a handle on the charitable giving — tax season is a great time to do this. Create a list of the key charities of interest and suggest that you review all of the others at the end of the year.

Money is always a difficult topic in families. If you don’t live near your loved one, or do and think it might be better for a third-party to help, I suggest you consider finding a local daily money manager to help you.

The Subtle Forms of Elder Abuse Family Members Miss

The Subtle Forms of Elder Abuse Family Members Miss

fraudYour loved one wants to stay in their home and you are concerned. Over and over, I’m finding that even my clients who have involved adult children are victims of some subtle forms of elder abuse that is stealing away hundreds to thousands of dollars a month of their parent’s money.

In the past month, I’ve had a client that got taken by a face cream offer. She does not have any cognitive issues and is now caring for a loved one with Parkinson’s. She never managed the money, so she asked me to step in to help her understand and manage the cash flow and help with budgeting since the expenses are starting to escalate with her husband’s care. When we started to review the credit card, I asked her what Lye Ludermacell was. She said it was a “free” face cream trial where she paid for shipping. Well, there was more than $200 of other charges for products on her credit card. She was very angry, as have been several thousands of clients taken in by the same scam. Michelle Singletary (The Washington Post) wrote about it earlier this month. We called to cancel and recouped 75% of the charges on the products she had received. We discussed how ANY offer, no matter how credible looking that says FREE and then asks for a credit card is trouble.  Had we not looked through her credit card billing item by item, she may not have noticed for months–if even at all.  So many older adults just set the bill on auto-pay and don’t scan the monthly bills. That is a very dangerous habit when so many individuals and even organizations are working to get to your money.

A few months ago, I spent more than 45 minutes with Juno trying to cancel the service for dial-up Internet my client was still paying for. She just never thought to question the monthly $9.95 billing for Juno even though she had wifi in her house. We also found a “free shipping” subscription billing her $25 monthly she had no idea how to use or what it was. So Juno took over $1,000 of her money and the shipping subscription had been billing her for two years for more than $600 of her money. I have ten zillions ways I could spend $1,600!

The one issue that is troubling me the most is for a client with mild cognitive impairment who generally is doing fine living at home. Not only is his daughter involved, but I visit him twice a week and we have an Aging Life Care Manager Another who is helping manage his medical visits and medications. When I noticed he had a physical therapy (PT) appointment on his schedule and neither his daughter or the Aging Life Care Manager knew about it, I made a point to stop by during his next PT session at home. It turns out that six months ago, his doctor recommended PT and they had an agency come in for a few weeks. It was determined after a few visits that he didn’t need it any longer.

So here’s the dirty underbelly of health care — somehow the first company passed the order to an affiliate who called my client to say the doctor ordered PT and started scheduling both PT and Occupational Therapy appointments (medication management). When I shared what I found, his daughter quickly called to shut down the service and cancel all future appointments, but the first few visits were billed to his Medicare account. Technically, the health care agency was implementing the doctors order, but it was already determined he didn’t need the services by the first therapist.

It’s the small issues that can add up making someone with cognitive issues living alone incredibly tricky. You want them to maintain the independence and lead the life they want, but you are faced with a number of risks from safety and fraud that mean another choice might be better.  

You may want to consider bringing in a Daily Money Manager who is skilled at helping protect an individuals’ financial interests. You can find one in your area here.

Protecting Yourself from Online Bank Fraud

Online banking has many benefits—from a simple way to pay bills to a historical portal of your banking statements. For those of you who haven’t tried it because of safety concerns, here are three tips to protect yourself from online fraud:

  1. Make sure you are using an American bank that is insured against theft by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. The insurance applies to any sum up to $250,000.
  2. Be vigilant about monitoring your transactions and respond to alerts from your bank if a charge or withdrawal appears to be suspicious.
  3. Never respond to emails from your bank or click on an attachment. Because of the fraud risk, banks are not using email to communicate more than a basic alert or a sales notice to their customers.
If you are concerned, contact your bank by phone or in person (but don’t reply using information included in the email you received).

Three ways to ensure you aren’t a victim of online banking fraud

On the heals of the story that broke last week about How Hackers Took as Much as $1 Billion from Banks, it’s positive to note that the victim of the theft was the banks, not the consumers.

I have been teaching classes on how to “Tame the Internet” and am surprised by how many attendees have never used online banking. If you fall into this category, or are concerned, you should know that:

  1. Make sure you are using an American bank that is insured against theft by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. The insurance applies to any sum up to $250,000 in checking, a savings account or a certificate of deposit at a U.S. bank.
  2. Be vigilant about monitoring your transactions and respond to alerts from your bank if a charge or withdrawal appears to be suspicious.
  3. Never respond to emails from your bank or click on an attachment. Because of the amount of fraud, banks aren’t using email to communicate more than a basic alert or a sales notice to their customers. If you are concerned, contact your bank by phone or in person (but don’t use information included in the email you received), or for those of you with online banking, log in and check to see if there is a message posted in the online portal.

Online banking has many benefits, from a simple way to set up bill payments to a historical portal to your banking statements. As the primary family caregiver to my parents when they could no longer manage for themselves, I have found online banking an incredible time and effort saver for me.