Main Street had a helpful story this week discussing the risk that many seniors face from credit card fraud. The story was published in awareness of May as “Older Americans Month.” Each New York elder law attorney at our firm appreciates the need to increase community understanding of the various issues affecting seniors, including financial exploitation.
Credit card fraud is common because it is relatively straight-forward. A thief gets the senior’s credit card information and uses it to make a string of purchases. The culprit usually continues until the senior catches on to the problem and puts a stop to it. Depending on the senior’s living situation, it may be quite some time before the theft is identified. Thousands and thousands of dollars can be lost in these simple scams.
Prevention measures take two forms: minimizing risks that the credit card information will be obtained and putting steps in place to catch wrongdoing soon after it occurs.
Surprisingly, the most common way that thieves obtain credit card information is voluntarily from the seniors themselves–when the senior gives out their credit card information while trying to buy a product. Sometimes the elder will send credit card information in response to an email solicitation and at other times the information might be given over the phone. Beyond fake product purchases, credit card information can also be taken by unscrupulous caregivers–either at-home or in an assisted-living facility–or by any others who may have access to the senior’s records.
Checking accounts several times a week is ideal to catch questionable transactions as soon as possible. The longer a scammer is allowed to use the card, the harder it ultimately is to unravel the problem afterwards. Sometimes it is helpful for an adult child to have access to a senior parent’s online bank statements to provide oversight.
The FBI notes that most senior financial exploitation, from credit card scams to fake home repair services, occurs for the same reasons:
(1) Seniors often have a financial nest egg;
(2) They come from a more “trusting” generation
(3) They are often too proud to report the misconduct.
Therefore, New York elder law attorneys appreciate that tackling the problem in our area requires making seniors aware of the specific scams and ensuring that outside observers are in a position to catch a problem if it arises. We encourage all seniors and their families to remain alert to these fraud risks. One helpful resource to help in the effort is this FBI list of common senior scams and prevention techniques.
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