Friday, January 24, 2014

Protecting Your Older Loved Ones From Fraud

Scammers are unscrupulous fraudsters that never quit at targeting innocent victims, with the latest being Target’s notorious credit card security breach. Regardless of age or what income bracket you are in, no one is immune to scammers or hackers. Staying informed and being educated is the best way to protect yourself and loved ones from being the next target.

Many of us take extra steps of precaution to ensure our older loved ones (older parents or grandparents) are protected from these ruthless individuals. Advise them to use direct deposits for their funds as opposed to having checks mailed to them, which decreases the likelihood that their checks will be stolen from the mail or lost. Educate them to never give their social security number to anyone on the telephone or to scammers knocking on their front door, even if they have personal information on them. They should take down the person’s name and phone number and give that information to a responsible, trusting relative to take care of that matter for them. Senior citizens tend to be extra compassionate and are more willing to help financially to those unfortunate, being raised in the 1930’s-1950’s when they were taught to me more gracious and trusting. Some receive letters or emails of requests for money to help a distant relative or “friend of a friend” involved in a tragic incident. There are far too many non-profit and religious scams that do not represent what they claim. Have an elderly loved one add a responsible close relative to their bank account so they can access their account online to keep a close eye on the checks they write. To keep them from being able to write large checks to a potential scammer, keep a low balance in their checking account.

A more prevalent scam that government organizations are warning older citizens about are reverse mortgage scams. Although legitimate reverse mortgages exist, some of the ones that are not involve advertising luring senior citizens who’ve built a lot of equity into their homes with “attractive offers of free money” but not disclosing the high fees, conditions, or risks associated with loan.

Unfortunately, the ability to recognize fraud can diminish with aging, especially among those with dementia or other cognitive impairments. According to the FTC, in 2013, 36 percent of all fraud cases were reported from Americans 50 years or older. The scary fact of that figure is that only represents a lesser portion, as only a small percentage of frauds are even reported. Many older individuals are unaware of the first step in reporting fraud or a scam. Helping to make it easier for seniors and their loved ones to report suspected fraud, the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging released a toll-free hotline (855-303-9430) staffed with investigators with experience in investment scams, identity theft, bogus sweepstakes, lottery schemes, Medicare and Social Security fraud.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Target’s Offer to Consumers Post Security Breach: A Hoax or Legit?

I received an email recently in light of this past holiday season’s whole Target snafu. In so many words, the email reassures shoppers that the cause of the issue has been addressed, they are taking full responsibility for any fraudulent charges that were incurred and that it’s safe to shop there. A short time later, another “apologetic” email from Target headquarters arrived in my inbox offering a free year of credit monitoring service, with identity theft insurance through Experian with access to an activation code. What’s more inexplicable is that the email came from a address. Very sketchy. Are they trying to regain my trust as a shopper with this offer?  Many consumers are wondering, is that email a hoax?

After doing some extensive research, I found the email to be actually legitimate. Target has confirmed the validity of this email on its corporate website:

I know every time I open those red doors, it’s like a retail booby-trap for me. I go in there with full intentions to purchase a just couple of necessary household staples and end up leaving with a cartload full of items I don’t really need, usually paid for with plastic. I happened to skip over that store in my recent holiday shopping excursions. But, why did I and many other consumers who haven’t recently shopped there receive  that email? In my research, I found that the hackers may have stolen personal information that the retailer had on file, including names, mailing addresses, phone numbers and email addresses. Not a comforting feeling, needless to say. Thankfully, after checking my financial statements and credit reports a short time ago, I have not noticed any suspicious activity. Whether the consumer decides to take Target up on that offer is up to them. Personally, in this day and age, I am steering clear from giving out more personal information if I don’t have to.