At Blakeford Senior Living, we know seniors are often the targets of fraud. That’s why we sat down with Lt. Michael Warren of the Metro Nashville Police to talk about the biggest scams seniors face and some simple ways to identify and avoid them.
Lt. Warren cautions that everyone, especially seniors, is at risk for identity theft at the hands of scammers. “In the U.S., someone’s identity is stolen every 30 seconds,” he said. “Your information is out there whether you know it or not and it’s available if someone steals it or pays for it.”
This Q&A covers key tips seniors can follow to protect them from some of the most prevalent scams people are falling victim to today.
Blakeford: Many seniors still pay their bills by writing checks and putting them in the mail. Does this make their bank accounts more susceptible to fraud?
Lt. Warren: Would you lay your check on the ground? Your mailbox is the same idea because anyone can walk up and open it even though it feels like a private space. One key tip is to stop putting paper checks in your mailbox with the flag up. This signals to bad guys that there’s likely some form of payment being mailed. Remember that your checks are free information for scammers. They get your bank routing number, account number, and a check number that shows where you are in the checkbook so they can fabricate a duplicate check that’s in series so it won’t be flagged at the bank.
Blakeford: What’s a better option than the home mailbox?
Lt. Warren: Use United State Postal Service blue boxes if possible. The ones inside the post office are best because they are more secure and typically have camera coverage. If using a blue USPS box on the street, check the delivery schedule and drop your mail as close to pick up as possible. Don’t drop any mail after the last pickup of the day because the blue boxes aren’t sophisticated and can be broken into if someone really wants to try.
Blakeford: We’ve heard that telephone scams targeting seniors who are grandparents are on the rise. How do these scams work and how can seniors identify them?
Lt. Warren: A fraudster will call you and act like a relative who was involved in a crash or under arrest to create a sense of fear or urgency. This results in people checking their common sense at the door because they panic. The scammer wants the senior to think a loved one is in danger or hurt so they don’t think about verifying – They are trying to put the senior into an “I’ve got to fix the situation” mentality.
Blakeford: What should seniors do if they get one of these calls?
Lt. Warren: Try to remain calm and verify that the caller is your loved one by asking questions only they would know or hang up and call them back at the number you have saved in your phone.
Blakeford: Many scammers try to access seniors’ credit card information. What are some ways to protect your card and your credit rating?
Lt. Warren: If a senior believes they are a victim of credit card fraud they can do what’s called a fraud alert with any of the credit bureaus. You can request a fraud alert for 90 days on your identity and if you provide a police report that covers the theft of your identity it can be extended to seven years. This alert is a notice placed on your credit report that notifies credit card companies and other entities that may extend you credit that you may have been a victim of fraud, including identity theft.
Blakeford: What are the different levels of a fraud alert?
Lt. Warren: The easiest way to look at this is by visualizing the levels like a traffic light.
Green – This means there is nothing suspicious on your credit to elicit caution on the part of creditors.
Yellow – When you request a 90-day or 7-year fraud alert it doesn’t shut your credit down but tells creditors to exercise caution before extending credit because you have been the victim of identity theft. This is good because there are more checks and security by lenders before they approve a loan.
Red – This is a complete credit freeze for individuals who are people who have been severely impacted by identity theft. In the red zone, a person needs to call creditors or lenders and temporarily unfreeze assets when they need credit.
Blakeford: What are some other basic tips seniors can follow to avoid scams?
Lt Warren: Remember that public entities will never call you directly, it’s not their role in the system. If it’s someone claiming to be from the IRS, jury duty, or police asking for money or threatening arrest calling on the phone it’s a scam. Anything official will go through the courts.
Also, seniors should know that their caller ID can’t be trusted anymore so it’s important to always verify because it may not always be who you think it is on the other end of the line.
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