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 and cell phone numbers to this national registry. North Carolina enacted a Do Not Call law that dovetails with the national registry. N.C. consumers need only to register once with the national registry, and this will enable them to benefit automatically from the state 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.
Kara Gansmann is an attorney in the Wilmington office of Cranfill Sumner & Hartzog LLP, where her practice encompasses elder law and estate planning. Kara advises individuals and families with estate planning needs and asset protection tactics. In this role, she strategizes with clients to preserve assets for long-term care and to leave legacy gifts to family members. Kara works with elderly clients in need of Medicaid crisis planning and Medicaid applications. As part of her practice, Kara drafts wills, trusts and powers of attorney. In the courtroom, Kara represents clients in the administration of estates, guardianship/incompetency proceedings, and guardianship administration. Kara also litigates estate and trust matters, including will caveats, the modification or termination of trusts, and litigation arising from estate documents or fiduciary roles. She is a member of the North Carolina Bar Association Elder Law and Special Needs Section and serves as co-chair of the CLE Committee for that section. Kara also serves as a liaison between the North Carolina Bar Association Elder Law and Special Needs Section and the North Carolina Bar Association Estate Planning and Fiduciary Law Section.