Seniors are steadily embracing technology like social media, email, and smartphones to stay in touch with family and friends. However, seniors are also at risk of becoming victims of fraud through these same digital modes. In the worst scenarios, seniors have lost their life savings to scam artists through phishing emails or phony scam telephone calls. What follows below are tips for seniors and their loved ones to implement to protect seniors from becoming victims of fraud in a digital world:
- Register telephone numbers on the national “Do Not Call Registry.” Add home telephone numbers and cell phone numbers to this national registry. North Carolina enacted a Do Not Call law that dovetails with the national registry. North Carolina consumers need only to register once with the national registry, and this will enable them to benefit automatically from the North Carolina law as well as federal laws. The registry helps filter out calls from telemarketers as well as frauds.
- Educate seniors. Ensure seniors know not to disclose personal information like a Social Security Number or financial information to others over a telephone or in other risky situations. Inform seniors about phishing emails and how to spot them. Help seniors understand the need for discretion, safety, and privacy in social media activities. Advise seniors of any particular trends in scamming like phony IRS telephone calls or the “too good to be true” emails. Help seniors develop strong passwords for devices and online accounts.
- Review bank statements regularly. Ensure that all banking transactions are necessary and applicable to a senior’s needs If a senior has appointed an agent through a Durable Power of Attorney, that agent can access the senior’s bank records to verify there are no suspicious transactions.
- Check privacy settings and apps on devices. Show seniors how to manage their privacy settings like location, microphone, or camera on a device. Explore what the privacy settings mean, how the settings work, and what apps are accessing the device. For example, explain how the microphone, location setting, or camera on a device could compromise a senior’s privacy or how certain apps could access a senior’s personal data like photos or contacts.
- Vet and monitor in-home service providers. Conduct a careful investigation of anyone with direct access to the senior or the senior’s home (and the digital devices within). Ask for references and conduct a background check of any potential providers. Know who has a key to the home and the general schedule of these providers.
Seniors can plan proactively by appointing an agent in a legal document called a Durable Power of Attorney. This agent, in some circumstances, can act on behalf of the senior to pay bills, conduct banking transactions, or contract with service providers. This same agent can also be appointed to manage a senior’s digital assets. Having an agent in this role allows the senior to select a trustworthy person to monitor a senior’s vulnerability to fraud via technology. If a senior has no Power of Attorney and lacks the capacity to sign this document, a loved one may need to seek guardianship over the senior to protect from exploitation.
Regional and state agencies in North Carolina are also helping protect seniors from becoming victims in scams. In many cases, a complaint for fraud can be filed with the Attorney General. Locally, various agencies and volunteers work with the Cape Fear Elder Abuse Prevention Network to protect seniors from fraud, abuse, and exploitation. If a loved one suspects elder abuse, contact the county Adult Protective Services.