How to protect yourself from money scams

Jan 10, 2012, 6 a.m.

Seniors and those sailing confidently into their sunset years are frequently the target of criminals attempting to perpetrate money scams and other fraud schemes. But just because your younger days are behind you doesn't mean you have to fall victim to scams. Here are a few tips and suggestions to help you identify yourself to the would-be scammers and scumbags of the world as someone who won't be easily victimized. By taking the following steps, you'll go a long way in protecting your money and your belongings from those who'd seek to hoodwink you out of them.

Have your social security checks and any other sources of income directly deposited to your bank. One of the methods that many criminals use to scam you out of your money includes stealing your mail directly from your mailbox before you've even had a chance to check it. Eliminate this security gap and you'll give those lousy crooks one less "in."

Use caution when picking up your phone. That sounds pretty ominous, but the fact is that one of the favorite and unfortunately most effective methods that criminals have of perpetrating a variety of money scams on unsuspecting seniors is done entirely by phone. People posing as telemarketers (who are already bad enough without throwing in the criminal element, to boot) prey upon the elderly by phone and are often successful in their endeavors. But you can avoid their calls by ensuring that your home phone has caller ID enabled, and by not picking up the phone for any caller whose number you don't recognize.

Take all offers you get in the mail with a grain of salt. Mail offers are another way that criminals try to defraud you of your hard earned savings, usually by offering free services or gifts or telling you that you've won some grand prize in a contest you didn't even enter. If you're not sure whether or not the offer you've received in the mail is legitimate, it probably isn't. Exercise your free will and shred it.

The last bullet point calls to mind another equally important method of keeping yourself safe from scams and criminal fraud. This is easily accomplished by buying a paper shredder from your local office store. Since many identity thieves will go through your garbage to try to find information about you to help them better target you, you can eliminate any opportunity for them to do so by shredding all mail and documents before throwing them away. Shred anything that has your name, address, or other proprietary information like your bank account information or health insurance records.

Ask for help. Remember, it's not a sign of weakness to ask someone to help you out to make sure that you protect yourself from the criminal element of the world. Just as you wouldn't feel any shame in having a professional come over to your home to install a burglar alarm to keep you safe from break-ins, there's also no shame in having a trusted family member help you out or take over your finances once you've reached the age where doing so is more of a hassle than it's worth. Consider assigning power of attorney to someone in your family that you know you can trust to execute your financial decisions. This ensures that even if thieves are successful in obtaining your information, the damage will be minimal since the person with power of attorney will have to approve all financial activity that takes place on your accounts.

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