It’s so sad that we continue to see news stories about senior citizens falling for financial scams. The financial services industry has done quite a bit to help protect the elderly from financial abuse. But it still happens, and I fear that additional regulations and more laws won’t eliminate the problem.
Over the past few weeks I assisted an elderly couple, clients of more than twenty-five years, with a financial transaction. Not surprisingly, it was questioned by compliance. They wanted to know if my clients, because of their age, were capable of making a financial decision.
I have no problem with the inquiries because compliance regulators don’t see much beyond a person’s birth date. Fortunately, my senior couple is very vibrant and active. They play golf, travel and are very proficient with computers and spreadsheets.
In other words, their birth certificates say one thing, but their lifestyles and abilities prove they are fully capable.
Conversely, I have clients who are vulnerable as a result of failing health and memory issues. I’m genuinely concerned about them because they’re more vulnerable to the many scams and abuses we hear about so often.
In my world, my staff and I, and the vast majority of my financial services peers, go to great lengths to guard and protect our clients from the vultures in our society. Unfortunately, it’s an uphill battle because the scams keep coming and the scammers are using technology in their efforts to fleece the elderly.
My mother, for example, is constantly bombarded by scammers. She receives phone calls and emails from the IRS, Social Security, Medicare, her bank, her medical professionals and many more. Of course, none are legitimate. They’re scammers trying to get her personal information with the intent of raiding her nest egg.
If they suspect a scam, I tell her and my clients to send the suspect to me. And don’t give out any personal information or account numbers under any circumstances. Or verify the accuracy of any information they put forward to you. No ifs, ands or buts.
The best conversations are either short or non-existent. This is the one time in life where it’s ok to be rude and hang up. If by some chance the call was legitimate, the caller will understand.
Some scammers appeal to emotions by saying that the elderly person’s grandchild needs help and mom and dad too embarrassed to ask for it. Naturally, a grandparent’s instinct is to help their grandchild. But, more often than not, this is an especially insidious scam.
Gift cards are another red flag. If gift cards are part of a proposed financial transaction, it’s almost certainly a scam. Delete the call, text or e-mail immediately.
Sadly, not every instance of senior financial abuse results from phishing or fraud. It’s estimated that almost 25 percent of financial abuse is perpetrated by a trusted person. It could be a family member, a caretaker or even a trusted professional advisor. In other words, you just never know.
My suggestion: As you age, gather a trusted circle of family members and advisors. The best way to protect your checkbook is to have those you have entrusted to be periodically checked as well.
In short, the elderly need to be watched from both inside and outside their circle.