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Are You Helping Protect Your Older Clients From Financial Scams?

Elderly man being scammedMost everyone, at least once, has received an email from a “Wealthy Prince” who claims to know of a massive inheritance in their name. If only you would wire $10,000 U.S. to unlock $10 million … Sounds too good to be true, right? It is. In order to get the inheritance, this “Wealthy Prince” typically requires you send your bank account information, social security number, birthdate and other personal information. This leads to a financial disaster.

Unfortunately, this is just one of an increasing number of financial scams that people have fallen victim to, especially older Americans. Recently, an American World War II veteran was scammed out of $43,000 due to a fake sweepstakes that told him he won $4.7 million and a new Mercedes-Benz, as long as he provided personal information and opened a bank account where the money could be deposited. The elaborate scam involved multiple bank transactions over an extended period of time, each with the purpose of gaining the victim’s trust. Unfortunately, once the money is wired, it is very difficult to recover.

The AICPA has been a leading advocate for helping protect older Americans from financial scams. The AICPA is a partner organization for the National Adult Protective Services Association Global Summit for World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, held each June in Washington, DC. Additionally, the AICPA sits on the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA) Seniors and Diminished Capacity Advisory Council. Earlier this year, NASAA adopted a model act that provides new tools for investment advisers and broker-dealers to help detect and prevent financial exploitation of vulnerable adults.

According to the Investor Protection Trust, almost one in five Americans over the age of 65, or nearly seven million seniors, have been taken advantage of financially, either by an inappropriate investment, unreasonably high fees for financial services or fraud. Elder financial abuse is a major issue in the United States, but there are preventive steps you can take to ensure your older clients protect themselves.

  1. If it’s too good to be true, it usually is. The “Wealthy Prince” emails and telemarketing scams typically start with a well-meaning and trusting victim that gets deceived. You can speak with clients to help make them skeptical of these “too good to be true” offers.
  2. Keep personal information private. Remind clients they should never give out credit card, banking, social security or other personal information over the phone unless your client initiated the call. All personal information should be kept private unless giving it to a trusted source.
  3. Shred unwanted personal information. Ask your clients if they own a shredder. Be sure they know bank statements, credit card statements, receipts and other personal financial information should be shredded immediately after use. People who come into an older person’s home can steal personal information or dig through the older person’s garbage to get this information.
  4. Don’t buy from an unfamiliar company. If the product or service you are buying is unfamiliar, ask your older clients to research the company first before providing payment. If the person tries to rush your client into a decision, that could be a red flag.
  5. Ask for written verification. If someone calls your older client on the phone about an offer or charity, instruct them to always ask for and wait until they receive written material. Have the client ask for specific information about the salesperson, including name, business identity, telephone number, address and business license number before conducting business.

For more information on protecting clients from financial scams, visit 360finlit.org.

Dan Bond, Senior Manager – Communications and Consumer Education, American Institute of CPAs.

Samantha Delgado, Manager – Communications and Consumer Education, American Institute of CPAs.

Senior citizen giving financial information to scammers courtesy of Shutterstock.

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