When asked why he robbed banks, Willie Sutton is rumored to have said, “Because that’s where the money is.” Why do scam artists target older adults? They have the money; tend to be more trusting and many seniors are not experts with the technology in their phones and computers.
You probably know of the Nigerian prince, Spanish lottery and jailed grandchild scams. Be careful of the ever evolving simple to complex methods aimed to relieve you of your funds. Here are a few tips to help you and your money stay safe.
- If you use a computer or a smart phone, use anti-virus software and keep it up to date. Sometimes crooks will send out emails that look like they came from our friends. If it looks funny, perhaps odd misspellings or an attachment or a link that you weren’t expecting, don’t open it.
- Be skeptical about unknown phone calls. The government will not call you on the phone. Not the IRS, Social Security Administration or Medicare. They will write a letter. A good tip is if you receive a call and don’t recognize the number or the caller’s name, don’t answer. If it’s important, they will leave a message or call back.
- Be cautious about giving out your personal information. Your bank or broker will not ask for it unless you call them.
- Home repair scams typically involve those knocking on your door saying they are doing a job in your neighborhood and can give you a great deal on the same service. Just say no or ask for a card without letting them into your house. In Eden Prairie, they need a solicitation permit. Ask to see it. If you do sign contracts in your home for home repairs you have the right to cancel the contract within three days.
- Much home repair fraud involves cash down and no work done or a verbal commitment to a “good price” and invoices issued for way in excess of the value of the work done. For home repairs, get a recommendation from friends, or vet companies through a service like Consumer’s Checkbook that is available from the Hennepin County Library. Be cautious about down payments. Make sure contractors have made a written commitment to you on price, specifications and when the job will be completed.
- Be cautious with financial advisors. Check them out carefully. If they promise returns that seem too good to be true, run. Find out how they are paid. Advisors can be paid by commission, by a fee for advice or by a percentage of assets under management. Never give a financial advisor a power of attorney. Know who will be the custodian of your assets. That is typically a brokerage house. Make sure your statements are issued by the brokerage firm, not on the letterhead of the financial advisor.
- Unfortunately, many older adults rely on friends and family members who may steal from them. Be careful in selecting those who will help with finances and bill payment. Are they having financial issues or substance abuse issues? Do you believe them to be highly ethical? When they are here to help, just make sure you pick wisely.
- Be cautious about websites that appear to be that of a reputable business. Similar names and look are the signs of a scam. Buying an auto? If the price seems too good to be true, you are likely buying a car that is flood damaged or that is not owned by the seller. Do not send money to hold a bargain.
Need help checking out a business or reporting a scam? The Better Business Bureau, the Minnesota Attorney General, the Commerce Department, the Federal Trade Commission and your local police department can help. Be smart and be careful out there.
Written by: Richard Jensen, Law Office of Richard Jensen