How to spot and prevent financial abuse
Each year, millions of senior citizens are victimized by financial fraud or theft of money, property, or valuable personal information. Often, an adult child or other relative is responsible. Other situations may involve trusted individuals such as caregivers, legal guardians, investment advisors, or new “friends.”
Here are some suggestions for protecting yourself and your loved ones:
- Choose an advisor carefully. When selecting a broker, attorney, accountant, or other professional, even someone recommended by a friend or relative, independently research that person’s background and reputation before investing money or paying for services. Make sure you trust that this individual will do what is best for you and your finances.
- Be careful with powers of attorney. At some point, you might want to have a power of attorney (POA), a legal document that authorizes another person to conduct business on your behalf. While powers of attorney can be very helpful, be careful whom you name as your representative. A POA allows the appointed person to step into your shoes and do everything you can do, including taking money from your account and borrowing money in your name.
- Protect your personal financial information. Never give out your bank account numbers, Social Security numbers, personal identification numbers (PINs), passwords, or other sensitive information unless you initiate the contact. Keep your checkbook, account statements, and other sensitive information in a safe place. Destroy paper documents containing sensitive information that are no longer needed.
- Closely monitor your credit card and bank account activity. Review your account statements as soon as you receive them and look for unauthorized or suspicious transactions. If you find any, report them to your bank immediately.
- Review your credit report. One way to monitor your finances is to order your free annual credit report, which agencies are required to provide upon request. The big three agencies are Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Check to make sure the information in the report is accurate and complete.
- Take your time when deciding on a major financial decision or investment. Make sure you understand the transaction and ask questions if you do not. If necessary, ask a lawyer or financial advisor to help you understand the documents and discuss what is best for you. Walk away from anyone who says you must decide or do something right now.
Financial fraud is on the rise. Knowing how to spot and prevent it will help you protect yourself and your finances.
Ray Wills is security officer at F&M Trust.
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