By Jeanne McCusker
Two things in life are certain, taxes and tax scams. We all have to deal with the former, and, shamefully, the latter is more likely to happen to us as we age. In fact, the annual financial loss by victims of elder financial abuse is estimated to be at about $3 billion.
In the coming weeks, the IRS will publish The Dirty Dozen, their list of the top 12 trending tax scams, which we encourage every older person and their loved ones to review. They have already warned the public that phone scams and "phishing" schemes, designed to steal personal information through fake emails and websites, continue to be a major problem.
It's a good reminder to warn an older loved one that unsolicited phone calls and emails are not always what they seem. Our free, downloadable, Senior Fraud Protection Kit provides a variety of resources and tools to help seniors avoid being exploited. Here are some other tips to keep in mind:
• Shred documents that could be useful to criminals, including bank statements, credit card statements and offers, and other financial information. Documents that need to be preserved, such as tax filings and car titles, should be stored in a lock box or safe deposit box.
• Encourage your senior loved one to call the local Better Business Bureau (BBB) or to get a BBB Business Review online at bbb.org before acting on a phone call or piece of mail -- or agreeing to a visit from an unknown person, business or charity. Point out suspicious mailings, especially look-alike envelopes that mimic letters sent from the Social Security Administration or Internal Revenue Service.
• Add seniors to the national Do-Not-Call Registry at www.donotcall.gov or by calling 888.382.1222. Advise them to hang up if they get solicitation calls.
• Remind your senior loved one never to give out personal information or agree to give money over the phone. Rather, they should ask for written information to be sent through the mail. The best rule of thumb is: never provide information in a phone call that you did not initiate.
• Make sure any charity your senior loved one is involved or corresponding with is registered with the state attorney general. Make a written "giving plan" together: list which organizations the senior intends to support, and stick to it.
• Establish a strong defense by posting a "No Solicitation" notice by a senior loved one's front door and help your senior loved one sort through his or her incoming mail.
• Remember that all new technology has a learning curve. Educate your senior loved one about email phishing tactics such as prizes that need paid fees to claim.
• Watch for individuals who have befriended your loved one. Lonely or isolated seniors may be vulnerable to criminals who befriend them and provide companionship. Ask to talk to your parent's new friend to find out more.
• Seniors who are scammed may be embarrassed and try to hide what happened. Watch for changes in their lifestyle as well as any other unusual financial or business activity. If your loved one can no longer handle personal finances, encourage him or her to put a plan in place that can help ensure bills are paid and assets are protected. That plan may include your senior designating a financial power of attorney or a representative to monitor credit card use, especially if he or she has dementia.
• If you can't be there for your senior, find trustworthy people who can serve as eyes and ears for seniors by screening door-to-door scammers and others who seek to exploit by telephone or computer. Helpers could be neighbors, relatives, friends, faith community members or one of our professional CAREGivers.
For more information, please contact us.