Color of Money: Learn how to protect seniors from fraud

Michelle Singletary on

I fear that the major breach at Equifax -- in which 145.5 million consumer credit files were compromised -- will make things worse because the data stolen was so detailed. Hackers snatched consumer names, Social Security numbers and addresses. They also got two very vital pieces of information -- birth dates and driver's license numbers. This means scammers can cross reference the information and now specifically target people by age group.

"The elderly are targeted because of challenges they have," said Paul Gentile, president and chief executive of CCUA. "This issue is real and people have to get educated."

A separate survey released this summer also highlighted the vulnerability of seniors. The North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) polled state securities regulators and found a 29 percent increase in elder fraud. In most cases, the financial fraud isn't caught until it's too late to prevent serious financial loss.

Here are a few things you can do help protect an elderly relative.

-- Be a sentinel. Arrange with the senior to talk to you about any major financial decision before it's made. Since we know most fraud starts with a telephone call, write out a short script for the senior, and place it near the phone. It could say, "I have been advised by authorities not to give out any of my personal or financial information if I did not initiate the contact. Thank you."

-- Practice fraud prevention. It's not enough to just look out for fraud. You need to have a plan.

For example, coach your parent or relative to immediately hang up after reading the script. Many seniors consider it rude to hang up on folks. Help them get over this. The longer they engage with the scammer, the more likely the person will get the data he or she is seeking. In your drilling, rehearse what a fraudster might say to keep the senior on the telephone line.

Make no mistake about it: The con artists are practicing. And their schemes are getting harder to detect and combat because the slew of recent data breaches is equipping them with information that can make them sound legit.

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-- Get educated. Credit unions and banks all have some sort of consumer education effort. Get their advice on how to spot and prevent a senior swindle.

"While regulators are working hard to address the scourge of financial fraud," education is key, particularly with hundreds of millions of Americans' personal information readily available to criminals," Gentile said. "All financial consumers need to take steps to protect themselves financially and digitally, including by being aware of the latest trends in frauds and scams."

All these high profile data breaches, including yet another one this past week at Equifax, mean we all need to be more vigilant and educated to reduce the likelihood that our elderly get scammed.


Readers can write to Michelle Singletary c/o The Washington Post, 1301 K St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20071. Her email address is Follow her on Twitter (@SingletaryM) or Facebook ( Comments and questions are welcome, but due to the volume of mail, personal responses may not be possible. Please also note comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer's name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group



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