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How seniors can avoid getting scammed in retirement

Published On: Oct 09 2013 10:17:35 AM CDT
Elderly senior looking at bill

©iStockphoto.com/(BirdofPrey)

By Jon Coleman, Special to THELAW.TV

We are most vulnerable in life at our youngest and our oldest. When you're a child, you've got two parents looking out for your well-being. But things become a bit different after the years pass. Unfortunately, it's difficult to cite statistics on retirees who are victims of criminals and scam artists because the government doesn't break such crimes down by age -- and, sadly, many elderly folks are too embarrassed to report any crimes. Whether you're a senior yourself or you know someone who is, it's important to keep a vigilant eye on the money you worked so hard to amass throughout your career. For some helpful tips on how to keep your finances safe and secure after you retire, read on.

1. Be vigilant on the Internet

On the Internet, you can find great deals on just about everything -- just be sure they're not too great. If you're presented with a steep discount on a product or service, check on the credibility of the vendor first. Look for the VeriSign seal (which means the website is secure) and do a quick Internet search with the name of the website and the word "scam" or "complaint" after it. Check the Better Business Bureau website as well. You may find that the business in question has a reputation for unethical behavior. If it does, stay away.

2. Be careful on the telephone

There are plenty of ways for criminals to scam seniors over the telephone, whether it's an offer for free medical equipment, cheap prescription drugs or a prepaid burial plot. The most effective way to avoid all of these situations is to register your number with the national Do Not Call Registry website. If a suspicious call does slip through, though, never disclose any personal information. If it's a company you actually want to speak with, request the representative's name and a call-back number so you can initiate contact yourself as a means of verification.

3. Get direct deposit

If you currently have your Social Security or pension check mailed directly to your home, switch to direct deposit immediately. Checks sent by snail mail can be mistakenly rerouted, or intentionally intercepted, by anyone with devious intentions. By moving to direct deposit, you take one more opportunity out of the hands of the criminals and make your life more convenient, as well as requiring fewer trips to the bank. Check the Social Security website for more information or contact your former employer or bank.

4. Ignore unsolicited mailings

Responding to direct mailings has the potential to put all your most valuable information in the wrong hands. Credit card companies, as the most common example, frequently market themselves by sending offers of low-interest or high-rewards cards to "pre-approved" recipients. All you have to do is fill out the application and you're set. However, that application is a blueprint of your identity, and should criminals somehow get their hands on it, or worse, engineer it from the start, you're going to have one big mess to clean up. Unless you specifically requested information on a service or product through the mail, simply put all of that wasteful paper in your recycling bin – that's about all it's good for. One of the best ways to close off opportunities for scammers is to simply never read their attempts to lure you in.

5. Protect your personal information

There are very few instances where it's safe to give out your Social Security number -- filing your taxes online or applying for credit being the two most common examples. Your credit card information is going to be required from time to time, just use common sense when deciding whether to disclose it. If you're making a purchase from Target's or Amazon's website, of course that's fine. If a stranger asks you for it during an unsolicited phone call, hang up immediately. Keep all financial statements in a secure filing system, and once you don't need them anymore shred them, along with any other sensitive information.

Most scams revolve around deals that are too good to be true. Whether it's an investment, a steep discount, or a service you're told you can't afford to pass up, criminals know how to rope people in. Well, the old adage still applies: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Even if a deal appears credible, seek the advice of a trusted friend or family member before moving forward on anything that's going to cost you money. If you're unsure at all, ask around. You can't put a value on caution.

Jon Coleman is a financial columnist who covers money management topics and warns against various scams.

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