In my last blog l told the story of a couple I work with who had been the victims of credit card fraud. The investigation as to who perpetrated this crime is ongoing, but isn’t too early to learn some lessons about how to prevent it from happening to you.
- The couple routinely gave their aides signed checks with which to do errands;
- They are very trusting people by nature, and they were not aware that they should never give out personal information to people calling their house;
- Like so many other people, my clients are disorganized with their paperwork, often leaving sensitive documents out in the open for anyone to see;
- When the bank called their house to talk about the fraudulent activity on their account, they did not understand the urgency of the situation and asked to be called later on in the week;
- The bank called back as per my clients wishes, but no one answered. The bank left a voicemail – but my clients rarely check their voicemail and did not get the message;
- When an appointment was eventually made with a representative of the bank, I learned that neither of my clients had valid identification because they had become non-drivers – obviously a tricky obstacle to overcome when trying to prove one’s identity to a bank on paper.
- I contacted the couple’s grown children, the family attorney and their private banker to inform them of what happened;
- We held a family meeting with the care manager, the personal banker and their attorney.
- We closed all their credit card accounts and started to think strategically about how much of a limit they should have on their new cards;
- We filed a fraud alert with all three major credit bureaus to prevent anyone from opening any credit accounts in my clients’ names, thereby preventing further identity theft;
- We set up parameters for the future that will better protect my clients against fraud:
- A secret password was established for them to provide every time they had business with the bank.
- Caregivers who do shopping for them now have access only to one card for a household bank account.
- We now have online access to all of their accounts for better monitoring.
This case also taught me a great deal about the perceptions people have of Older Americans. My clients may have celebrated more birthdays than me, but the fact that they fell victim to this fraud does not mean they are incapacitated in any way; identity theft could happen to anyone at any age if they are not paying attention to their accounts.
The takeaway for people of all ages is a familiar one: Be vigilant about your personal information. If you or a loved one are in a position where you depend on someone else to help with daily activities, establish appropriate boundaries and ensure that famIly members and friends are familiar with them.
How safe are you from fraud?
Judith Heft, Principal, Judith Heft & Associates is a personal financial concierge with offices in Greenwich and Stamford. She can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone 203-978-1858.