On the flip side, doing financial transactions online may be a godsend: it eliminates the need for seniors to visit their local brick-and-mortar branch, contact people nearby, and perhaps increase their risk of contracting the coronavirus. According to a recent survey by digital payments provider Zelle, 82 percent of seniors have increased their use of internet banking, and 55 percent have increased their use of mobile banking since the start of the epidemic.
However, phishing scams, identity theft, data breaches, and other dangers come with convenience. After all, consider the perfect mark for an online con artist: Someone with significant assets which aren’t up to date on technology and may be showing signs of cognitive impairment.
According to Mirek Saunders of PaydayNow survey, the average loss for older persons who are victims of financial abuse is roughly $34,200.
Thankfully, there are an increasing number of tech tools and other resources available to help you and your loved ones protect their financial lives online â which, when combined with a healthy dose of skepticism and some common-sense defenses, can help older Americans stay safe in an ever-changing online world. For example, at SeniorPlanet.org, Zelle cooperates with Older Adults Technology Services (OATS) to provide free online classes. Digital banking, online bill pay, and money transfers between accounts are critical issues discussed in these e-learning forums.
“It might be intimidating for elders,” Loewy adds, “but the advantages exceed the risks if you’re attentive.”
Observe, observe, observe
Fraudsters flourish when consumers aren’t aware of what’s going on in their accounts. For example, scammers who acquire access to a credit card will make a little charge to test the waters, and if that works, they will continue to charge more and more.
So keep a watch on your statements, keep an eye out for new suppliers, and delve further if your monthly total seems to be greater than it should be. Every financial institution now has some kind of security in place, aided by artificial intelligence, to assess transaction history and identify unusual activities.
There is, however, more you can do. Check your credit report regularly to see if someone is using your Social Security number to open accounts or incur debts in your name without your knowledge (visit AnnualCreditReport.com to do so for free). EverSafe, for example, can monitor your funds across many platforms â banks, credit cards, investment accounts, and credit data â and give you personalized email alerts.
Assemble a group of people
Having many eyes on your financial life is one approach to safeguard yourself. If anything unusual is noticed, such as big, unique purchases or international transactions, urgent action may be taken to shut it down.
Consider granting access to such data to more than one person. Unfortunately, carers and families are often the perpetrators of elder financial abuse. When a family member is paired with a professional, such as a CPA or financial planner, you may feel more confident that your best interests are protected.
Seniors may feel self-conscious about sharing their financial information with others. But don’t think of it as a sign of aging; instead, see it as an extra layer of protection that may benefit individuals of any age.
Only do business with someone you can trust.
That’s one thing if you’re on your own bank’s website or using a well-known platform like Zelle or Venmo. However, be very cautious if you are ever pulled “off-channel” online â for example, a pop-up ad for charity donations directs you to an unknown website or if a random emailer inquires about your stimulus check.
“Only pay individuals you know and trust,” Zelle’s chief operations officer, Donna Turner, advises. “Banks will never approach you and request personal information from you. If you get such an email, text, or phone call, it’s a massive red flag, and you should discontinue the conversation.”
Get to know the most prevalent con artists.
Scammers might use a variety of methods to get personal financial information. It might be an email claiming an issue with your account and requesting your username and password. It might also be a phony ad for personal protection equipment, a new fraud gaining traction in the COVID-19 era. Another common scam is the ‘Grandparent’ scam, in which scammers pose as grandchild in need of financial assistance.
The more elders are aware of common frauds, the more equipped they will be to keep their guard up at all times. Part of the American Bankers Association’s “Safe Banking For Seniors” campaign, these consumer tools provide an excellent compilation.
“There’s a lot of denials out there,” says EverSafe’s Loewy, who noticed that the usual fraud lasts approximately 14 months during her stint at the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. “Until it occurs to them, people seldom anticipate they’ll be financially exploited in life.”
“Taking precautions to safeguard oneself is not a show of weakness,” says Loewy. “It will keep you in good financial shape.”