Seniors are often the target of fraudulent activity by scammers who want access to their money and/or personal information. As much as this behaviour is deplorable, it’s incredibly common—in fact, the Canadian Department of Justice reports that at least 10% of seniors experience fraud. Additionally, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre and several other sources have reported an increase in scams targeting seniors since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Fraud is the most common crime against seniors, but many are too embarrassed or ashamed to reach out for help after falling victim. Knowing this, prevention is absolutely critical. Here are some tips to help seniors avoid identity theft, financial scams and other instances of fraud.
Be aware of common scams
Be sure to discuss common types of fraud with the seniors in your life. This includes instances of credit card fraud, identity theft, online scams, phone scams and door-to-door strategies. Seniors should know not to give out personal information over the phone when called unexpectedly, and to avoid sharing personal information by email or on social media (particularly in public channels, such as the comments on a Facebook post). Even sharing your birth date on social media has risks! This government website offers a great overview of each type of scam as well as tips on how to protect yourself and your loved ones. The more these risks are openly discussed with seniors, the better protected they’ll be.
Protect all personal information
Some things should never be shared: your bank PIN, your account information and passwords, your Social Insurance Number (SIN) or any personal information that could help criminals log into your accounts more easily. Seniors should be advised to keep all personal information private and to cover the keypad when inputting their PIN number on an ATM, debit or credit machine. Documents containing personal information should be safely stored and eventually shredded. If you are serving as a Power of Attorney who manages financial tasks on behalf of an aging loved one, please remember to do these things on their behalf.
Check your credit score
No matter how vigilant we are, some scammers will be able to gain access to our information or financial accounts. Seniors should check their credit score on a regular basis to look for red flags such as a drop in rating or unexplained debts. Doing this every six months is a simple but effective preventative measure. In fact, you should do the same thing yourself regardless of age!
Be compassionate rather than judgemental
If a senior falls victim to fraud, they may be ashamed and try to hide what happened instead of asking for help. It’s common for seniors to say, “I feel so stupid,” or “I can’t believe I fell for this,” after realizing they’ve been duped. When this happens, your reaction is incredibly important. Be empathetic, supportive and solution-oriented. Focus on fixing the problem rather than blaming them for getting into this situation, and speak compassionately throughout the process. This will set the tone for future incidents and other challenges. On the contrary, if a senior feels too ashamed to talk about what happened and ask for help, it may lead to money going unrecovered or continued harassment from scammers.
It’s actually best to put this dynamic in place before issues arise—being proactive is key and in some cases, it may even help prevent instances of fraud. By making it clear that you’re there to offer support instead of judgement, it helps your aging relatives feel comfortable asking for your assistance or opinion at the onset of a fraud attempt (for example, if they call you to ask if a request from CRA seems legitimate). Furthermore, it will set the tone for healthy communication and loving, open dialogue—fraud or no fraud, we could all benefit from more of that.