How can you and your family be on guard against financial scams, especially those that target the elderly?
Try to deal only with businesses and other organizations you already know or that have been recommended. When in doubt, contact your state or county's consumer protection office (listed in the blue pages of your phone book) or the Better Business Bureau.
Get key details of a significant offer in writing and thoroughly check them out before agreeing to anything. Make sure you understand your responsibilities and the potential risks before entering into any transaction.
"If the person making the sales pitch only focuses on the benefits or the promised return and brushes over the costs and potential risks, the seller may not be acting in your best interest and the product may not be appropriate for you," warned Michael Benardo, manager of the FDIC's Financial Crimes Section.
Closely monitor credit card bills and bank statements. Look at your monthly statements as soon as they arrive and report a discrepancy or anything suspicious, such as a missing payment or an unauthorized withdrawal.
Periodically review your credit reports for signs that an ID thief is misusing your name. Credit reports, which are prepared by companies called credit bureaus, summarize each person's history of paying debts and other bills. If your credit report lists a credit card, a loan or a lease you never signed up for, chances are a con artist is attempting to commit fraud using your identity.
Under a new federal law, you are entitled to one free credit report each year from each of the nation's three major credit bureaus. Experts suggest spreading out your requests throughout the year to maximize your protection. To get a free report, go to www.annualcreditreport.com or call toll-free 1-877-322-8228.
Remember the red flags of a fraud. You can avoid scams or help determine if an ill or elderly relative is a victim or target of fraud if you know some of the classic warning signs. They include:
- Unsolicited offers from strangers or unfamiliar companies that sound too good to be true, including mail or phone calls proclaiming an elderly person to be the "winner" of prizes or investment "opportunities;"
- Requests to send money or bank account information before a promised product or service is delivered;
- Pressure to quickly say "yes" to a proposal, especially an oral offer to sell you financial products, household equipment or home repairs that you may not really need;
- Indications of cash shortages when the elderly person should have enough money coming in; and
- Checks payable to unfamiliar people or businesses for reasons that the elderly person can't explain.
Immediately report a fraud or theft to the proper authorities.
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